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Hospital looks at ruling's impact

by Byron Tate | January 21, 2022 at 2:51 a.m.
Vaccinations will be available at the JPC 1 building from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday at the intersection of Hickory Street and 40th Avenue. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Byron Tate)

Last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling is creating what could be a double whammy for Jefferson Regional hospital.

The high court threw out the Biden administration's OSHA stipulation that larger employers have to require their workers to get vaccinated for covid, saying the agency, which oversees workplace safety, had overstepped its authority.

But the court allowed another policy to be put in place that requires health care workers to be vaccinated if the facility where they work receives Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Because Jefferson Regional falls into that category, workers there will now be required to be vaccinated or have a medical or religious exemption, according to Wendy Talbot, the hospital's chief experience officer.

"If you're going to work in health care in any capacity, you're going to have to comply," Talbot said. "All of the hospitals are in the same boat."

Staff numbers at Jefferson Regional are already down some because of illness due to the rapid spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus, Talbot said, and the court ruling could make the problem worse.

As is the case with the public at large, some health care workers have refused to get a vaccination for covid. Before the Biden Aadministration's requirement was appealed, all large employers -- those that employ 100 or more people -- had to require their workers to be vaccinated. During that time period, some health workers left their jobs at Jefferson Regional rather than get the shots, hospital officials have said.

Now that hospital workers are once again going to be required to be vaccinated, the fear is that they will leave their current jobs at Jefferson Regional because they do want to get vaccinated or they will leave to go to work for employers that now do not require workers to be vaccinated.

"This doesn't apply to nurses," Talbot said, "because anywhere a nurse goes, that person will need to be vaccinated. But a plumber or nutritionist, for instance, they can leave us and go to work for another business."

Talbot said information about the necessary compliance went out on Wednesday to all employees explaining what was being required. She said she didn't have numbers on how many employees had or had not received the vaccination because the hospital is just now starting to ask workers for documentation.

"A lot of this was put on hold while the appeal was in place," Talbot said. "So we're just now back in the collection phase. Basically, they all need to have one dose by Feb. 12 and be completed by Mar. 7. We're just going to do the best we can."

As the spread of the omicron variant continues to spike, creating a string of new daily infection records along the way, there is a greater demand for covid tests, Talbot said. And because testing supplies are in short supply, Jefferson Regional is asking the public not to come in each day in an effort to get a negative reading.

"Some employers are requiring workers who have tested positive to have a negative test before coming back to work," Talbot said. "That is not necessary. You could continue to be positive for weeks or months. We need to conserve these supplies. If we are having a hard time getting tests, we know that everyone else is having a hard time finding them."

Talbot said patients who have tested positive should follow the CDC guidelines regarding the requirements for staying isolated and being in quarantine. Once that period passes, she said, and patients have been fever free for five days, they can return to work if they wear a mask.

"They do not need a negative test," she said.

Talbot said the hospital will continue to administer covid tests from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the Watson Chapel health complex. Patients are swabbed as they drive through the complex, and then someone with the hospital will call the person with the results.

More than 700 patients were tested on Monday, with many of those taking advantage of a drive-through testing site at the main hospital, Talbot said.

Vaccinations will also be available this Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. in front of the Professional Professional Center No. 1 building at the intersection of Hickory Street and 40th Avenue, Talbot said.

"We will be giving pediatric and adult doses for the first, second and booster shots," she said.

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