Sarasota Memorial Hospital moves forward with vaccine mandate, complying with federal rules

Coronavirus

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The federal vaccine mandate is quickly approaching for all healthcare workers. In the Sunshine State, a newly signed law prohibits employers from requiring the shot without a number of exemptions.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital is the latest healthcare system requiring its employees and volunteers to get the shot. Hospital leaders made the announcement Thursday, the same day Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill banning the mandates into law.

The new laws begin the process to separate Florida from OSHA for workplace safety oversight, limit business vaccine requirements for employees and provide clear exemption options for workers, create penalties for businesses that violate state COVID-19 vaccination exemption policies, create public records exemptions for medical and religious information in the scope of investigations of businesses for refusing COVID-19 vaccine exemptions, and remove the ability of the state’s Surgeon General to mandate vaccines.

In a statement released Friday morning, the hospital in Sarasota said it updated its COVID-19 vaccination policy ‘to ensure compliance with the federal vaccine mandate and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rules’.

In a message to employees, CEO David Verinder wrote, “We are aware the federal mandate is facing several legal challenges, and the Florida Legislature has passed laws this week to counter the requirements. We are following these actions closely. But we must start implementing the federal mandate now to meet the required deadlines and ensure our continued participation in Medicare and Medicaid. The majority of our patients — 62 percent — depend on Medicare/Medicaid, so jeopardizing our participation in these programs would disrupt care for tens of thousands of community members”.

Currently, 82% of Sarasota Memorial’s nearly 7,800 member workforce is vaccinated.

Under the new policy, all employees, members of the medical staff and volunteers of Sarasota Memorial Hospital-Sarasota, Sarasota Memorial Hospital-Venice, and any Sarasota Memorial outpatient facility must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022, unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption provided by the federal mandate.

The hospital explained its vendors and contracted employees will also be required to comply with the federal mandate.

Those with approved exemptions will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing twice a week at external facilities, wear masks, and follow restrictions on dining in SMH facilities.

Senior Associate Dean at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine Dr. Jay Wolfson says it is unfortunate that Florida hospitals are falling into the middle of the vaccine debate.

“The challenge for hospitals like Sarasota Memorial, Tampa General, Jackson Memorial across the state is they receive a great deal of money from the federal government directly for Medicare and jointly between Medicaid state and federal governments. They are saying if I don’t abide by the federal law, I could lose tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars, but if I don’t abide by the state law, I could get a $50,000 per employee fine which cannot up pretty fast,” explained Dr. Wolfson.

Dr. Wolfson whatever happens will be up to the court system.

“Nobody is going to lose any money on this immediately, but it is like a giant sword of Damocles hanging over the hospitals who have so many other things to do to protect their patients, to make sure that they have enough nurses on staff to provide care which is a real challenge for all of us right now and to maintain the trust of the community that we are doing the right thing to ensure patient safety and quality care,” said Dr. Wolfson.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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