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Great Plains Health CEO says judge's ruling to block vaccine mandate was 'right decision at right time'
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Great Plains Health CEO says judge's ruling to block vaccine mandate was 'right decision at right time'

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Great Plains Health CEO Mel McNea called a federal judge’s ruling Monday blocking enforcement of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on health care workers in 10 states — including Nebraska — “the right decision at the right time.”

Great Plains Health warns vaccine mandate jeopardizes care

“I think it’s important and encourage vaccinations, but we also had a number of employees that were not going to take the vaccination,” said McNea, who had provided an affidavit on the potential negative impacts to rural hospitals. “That would have required us to limit some services. Now is not the time to limit services.”

The court order said the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services had no clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate from President Joe Biden’s administration for providers participating in the two government health care programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.

The preliminary injunction by St. Louis-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp applies to a coalition of suing states that also includes Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Similar lawsuits also are pending in other states.

The federal rule requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers nationwide in about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care providers that get funding from the government health programs. Workers are to receive their first dose by Dec. 6 and their second shot by Jan. 4.

McNea said in a telephone interview Monday that approximately 25% of Great Plains Health staff — about 300 people — was unvaccinated when the regulation was issued at the start of November.

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He said some have since elected to get vaccinated but added that “in certain areas of the hospital there are a fair share (of workers) that would terminate their employment instead of getting vaccinated.”

“They are in critical areas of our hospital,” McNea said. “In rural health care, recruiting is already difficult to begin with. There are not really any agency staff that are available to fill those slots. It would have hampered us pretty significantly.”

The court order against the health care vaccine mandate comes after Biden’s administration suffered a similar setback for a broader policy. A federal court previously placed a hold on a separate rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers get vaccinated or else wear masks and get tested weekly for the coronavirus.

Biden’s administration contends federal rules supersede state policies prohibiting vaccine mandates and are essential to slowing the pandemic.

But the judge in the health care provider case wrote that federal officials likely overstepped their legal powers.

“CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism,” Schelp wrote in his order.

Even under an exceedingly broad interpretation of federal powers, “Congress did not clearly authorize CMS to enact this politically and economically vast, federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate,” Schelp wrote.

This story includes content from the Associated Press.

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