Some hospitals in the region are pausing enforcement of President Joe Biden’s national COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers after a federal judge issued an injunction last week.

St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston halted its enforcement efforts after the court ruling and said it would take action based on the final outcome of ongoing legal proceedings.

“Our providers and employees are no longer required to be vaccinated or request a medical or religious accommodation by the deadlines previously set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” hospital spokesperson Samantha Skinner told The Lewiston Tribune.

Other hospitals, including Gritman Medical Center, will continue to follow the mandate while a 14-state lawsuit against the move continues.

“We are aware of those legal proceedings but the mandate is still a mandate from the federal government,” said Peter Mundt, director of community relations and marketing at Gritman. “We’re moving forward as an organization to make sure we follow it.”

Compliance with the executive order is tied to federal funding, requiring workers at hospitals and other health facilities which rely on Medicare and Medicaid programs to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or lose their jobs.

In a recent statement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it could not comment on the litigation.

“The vaccine requirement for health care workers addresses the risk of unvaccinated health care staff to patient safety and provides stability and uniformity across the nation’s health care system,” CMS stated.

Gritman reviewed the requirements and is set to be in compliance by the final deadline Jan. 4, according to Mundt.

About 86 percent of employees across the hospital system have received their first dose, and 83 percent are considered fully vaccinated. Exemptions are available for medical or deeply-held religious beliefs but applicants must go through a review process.

“We’ve had a rigorous vaccination program for a very long time,” Mundt said.

Gritman employees who receive exemptions will have to submit to regular testing. The requirement will be implemented next month on a weekly basis.

Pullman Regional Hospital added the COVID-19 vaccine to its list of mandatory employee vaccinations in August, but it was replaced shortly after by a state mandate from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

For all required immunizations at the hospital, medical or religious exemptions are allowed.

“When we instituted our vaccine mandate, we did allow for personal reasons,” said Alison Weigley, a spokesperson for the hospital. “However, the governor’s mandate came out and said personal exemptions were not allowed.”

Before Pullman Regional Hospital even instituted a mandate, the vaccination rate for employees had reached above 75 percent, she added. Now, all 546 staff members are in compliance.

“That was really important because it meant we didn’t lose providers,” she said. “It meant we could continue providing exceptional patient care and not worry that we were going to lose a bunch of doctors or nurses.”

Around 40 employees requested exemptions, according to Weigley. Several employees separated with the hospital as a result of noncompliance with the mandate.

Whitman County Public Health reported two new COVID-19 cases in the county on Thursday.

There have been 6,163 confirmed cases, 231 hospitalizations and 82 deaths in Whitman County since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitals differ on federal vaccine mandate

Public Health – Idaho North Central District reported three new cases of COVID-19 in Latah County on Thursday. The latest cases include two people in their 30s and one person in their 40s.

There have been 4,444 confirmed cases, 331 probable cases and 41 deaths in Latah County since the pandemic began.

Palermo can be reached at apalermo@dnews.com or on Twitter @apalermotweets.

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