Hospital executives and business leaders in New Jersey have expressed broad agreement with the US Supreme Court’s Jan. 13 ruling blocking the Biden administration’s vaccine or testing mandate for health care employers. at least 100 workers, but remain concerned that the mandate represents healthcare workers at federally funded hospitals.
President Joe Biden signed the order in September as the delta variant quickly spread across the country.
An estimated 4,646 private job sites employing nearly 1.4 million people in New Jersey could have met the order’s criteria, state labor officials said.
Thursday’s decision came just three days after the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s mandate took effect. Biden’s order had drawn criticism from Republicans who called it a federal overreach.
The court ruled 6-3 that OSHA exceeded its authority by imposing the broad vaccine requirement. But by a 5-4 vote, the justices upheld a similar rule adopted for healthcare workers by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Governor Phil Murphy ordered last summer that workers in hospitals, health care facilities and other “high risk” workplaces such as long-term care centers receive the vaccine or submit to regular testing.
“Due to our continued requirements under New Jersey law [executive order], New Jersey has made progress in ensuring immunization uptake across all healthcare personnel,” the New Jersey Department of Health said in a statement to NJBIZ. “This new rule strengthens the requirements.”
State health officials noted that the order would affect dozens of types of health care facilities, including hospitals, outpatient rehabilitation centers, long-term care facilities, clinics for rural health, community mental health centers, home health agencies, outpatient physiotherapy and speech therapy providers. – language pathology, federally approved health centers and psychiatric residential treatment facilities.
“Vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential means of preventing the spread of the virus and avoiding infection of vulnerable people such as residents of long-term care facilities and hospitalized patients, including those who may be too young to be vaccinated,” the NJDOH added. .
Cathy Bennett, president of the New Jersey Hospital Association, wondered if such terms are still important, especially amid a “critical shortage of healthcare workers” as the delta and omicron variants reduce their numbers.
“While the NJHA believes fervently in the importance of vaccination, mandates may be a barrier for some people working in our healthcare facilities,” she said in a statement.
In New Jersey, the mandate received a lukewarm reaction, with business groups opposed to such restrictions.
“[V]Decisions about the accine mandate should be made by companies on their own accord, taking into account their work environment, their workforce and the customers they serve,” said Michele Siekerka, President and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, in a statement.
“We don’t think there should be a one-size-fits-all policy regarding vaccination mandates.”
Tom Bracken, president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, warned that any mandate “would cause serious damage to some businesses because a lot of employees don’t want to be vaccinated or they’ll leave, and I think that’s was happening already.
Murphy has repeatedly said he will not adopt a statewide vaccination mandate, commonly referred to as a “vaccine passport” by opponents.
Labor groups and unions have also argued that the president’s terms could erode existing workers’ rights. “Healthcare unions have negotiated to protect the rights of healthcare workers, to ensure access to testing and vaccinations, all with the aim of minimizing the risk of exposure and containing the spread of the virus in healthcare facilities,” Debbie White, president of the 13,000-member nurses’ union HPAE, said in a statement. “Vaccination is just one step in the fight against this dangerous virus. Indoor masking, social distancing and hand washing must continue. »
Two other major New Jersey unions — the Communications Workers of America, which represent state workers, and the New Jersey Education Association — have both pushed for greater bargaining power for any vaccine or testing mandates. .
Hospitals on board
Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett said he was happy with the vaccination mandate for healthcare workers.
“We have a mandatory vaccine requirement in place,” he said in an interview. “It’s the right thing to do, given where we are in the pandemic and given some of the issues we face as a healthcare organization.
Kevin Slavin, CEO of St. Joseph’s Health, added, “[t]The evidence is clear to us, on the side of the sick, we see 5% or 6% of vaccinated. Less than 94% of patients have either the vaccination or a booster in New Jersey. »
RWJBarnabas Health, which has one of three New Brunswick-based Level 1 trauma centers in the state, said the decision “has no effect on the vaccination mandate” for its staff.
Atlantic Health, which owns Morristown Medical Center, said “every member of our team is either fully vaccinated, on the way to full vaccination, or has a qualifying exemption,” but did not provide a breakdown of one or the other group.
“We look forward to continuing to provide the vaccine to all team members, patients and community members who decide to receive it, as we believe that vaccination remains our best way to end the pandemic. “
Cooper Health, which owns another of the state’s Level 1 trauma centers based in Camden, told NJBIZ that all of its staff “are either vaccinated or have received a religious or medical exemption.”
Newark University Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center and the state’s only public hospital, said the decision also had no impact on its staff. It is one of six hospitals nationwide to receive aid from US military medical personnel as the virus infects hundreds of workers.
“University Hospital was the first hospital in the state to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all employees, a stance that was taken based on the principle that those of us who are expected to care for people the most vulnerable in our population cannot continue to spread this disease to each other or to our community,” he said in a statement.