AHA concerned federal vaccine mandate could exacerbate severe worker shortage

An impending federal requirement for all healthcare staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine could exacerbate massive workforce shortage issues that are plaguing the hospital industry, a key industry group said.

But other provider groups cheered the decision by the Biden administration to issue an emergency regulation next month that requires staff in hospitals and other facilities to get COVID-19 vaccinations or risk losing participation in Medicare and Medicaid.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Thursday it will put together an interim final rule in October calling for hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgery centers and other facilities to get their staff the shot. The statement expands on a similar intention to extend a vaccine mandate to all nursing home staff announced last month.

The American Hospital Association said in a statement that hospitals and health systems have been "hard at work both to increase vaccination rates among their workforce and the broader community,” said CEO Rick Pollack in a statement.

He added that the association has supported health systems and hospitals that have implemented staff vaccination mandates. So far, more than 170 systems across the country have installed such mandates.

“We look forward to reviewing the details related to today’s announcement of these new policies in regard to implementation, timing and the need for appropriate exceptions to accommodate medical and religious concerns,” Pollack said.

But he added that as a “practical matter, this policy may result in exacerbating the severe workforce shortage problems that currently exist.”

He called for the federal government to develop “aggressive and creative” strategies to address the workforce issue.

The hospital industry and nurses’ unions have traded barbs recently over the cause of a workforce shortage.

Major union National Nurses United said last month that hospitals are deliberately failing to staff units with enough nurses to provide safe care to maximize profits. The advocacy group Federation of American Hospitals responded that facilities are doing everything they can to provide sufficient staffing and supplies. Several large systems have reported higher labor costs as a major burden.

Other provider groups expressed support for the COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

The American Medical Association said Thursday that the requirement alongside increased testing and boosting supplies of monoclonal antibody treatments can “help us reach vaccination thresholds necessary to defeat COVID-19.”

Nursing home groups also applauded the decision to extend a mandate to other healthcare workers.

“Ensuring that all front-line healthcare staff are vaccinated just makes sense,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of the group LeadingAge, which represents more than 5,000 nursing homes, home health and hospice providers.