After delaying a week to hash out details through committee, the West Park Hospital District Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a mandatory vaccine policy. 

During that week, many staff members had already committed to abiding to the policy, whether by scheduling vaccinations or getting exemptions. As of Tuesday, roughly 82% of eligible employees were in compliance.

The vote came after several board members expressed frustration with the federal rule they have been forced to comply with to ensure necessary funding.

“I feel like this is a huge overreach of government. I feel like they’re holding us hostage with our own tax dollars,” said board member Glenn Nielson. “But in keeping with the law and in the best interests of the facility, I’ll probably vote for this. I hope the public sees that we don’t all agree with all of this.”

The vote was initially set for a special meeting called for Nov. 15, but the majority of board members voted to table the voteuntil Tuesday in order to get more information and form ad hoc committee of three board members – Nielson, Ty Nelson and Peggy Rohrbach – to speak with staff members involved and tweak the policy after hearing feedback at the meeting.

For Nelson, who said his views on the federal mandate were similar to Nielson’s, talking with staff in the committee meeting made him feel better about the policy. 

“It put my mind at ease, made me comfortable,” he said.

Explaining the way the policy will be implemented and the exemption process appears to be paying off, as eight days after the first meeting, the percentage of staff not yet in compliance or scheduled to be in compliance with the policy has fallen from 44% to just 18%. CEO Doug McMillan said the huge uptick — 65% of employees are scheduled to be or have been vaccinated and another 17% has already been approved for an exemption — gives him cause for optimism, although he still worries about losing employees.

“The staff have been informed every step of the process,” McMillan said. “I think our transparency has helped.”

He said administrators are monitoring the situation daily to be prepared with contingency plans for departments if in two weeks there are still people not in line with the policy.

McMillan said he knows he will lose some people who won’t comply out of principle.

The vote came a day after a Florida judge rejected a motion for an injunction against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid rule that says all health care facilities receiving that funding have to ensure all eligible staff and contractors are fully vaccinated by early January. Wyoming and nine other states filed a similar lawsuit in Missouri that is still pending. 

The policy approved for Cody Regional Health staff – it even includes board members – mandates that all employees need to have received either a first shot or one of two exemptions by Dec. 5. It also includes a clause whereby it will be suspended if a court levels an injunction against the CMS policy. 

The final policy provides for one week of unpaid suspension for employees who don’t abide by the policy before they are terminated, which means they would be eligible to receive their accumulated PTO hours and go on unemployment after that. 

The biggest piece of the policy people commented on at the first meeting revolved around the exemptions, and asking for them to be not too hard to get.

“Please consider your thoughts on religious exemptions. It’s not just organized religion, atheists or even someone spiritual in nature,” RN Karinthia Harrison said at the Nov. 15 meeting. “Encourage the committee to have very open mind to prevent future lawsuits.”

Tuesday’s meeting was attended by roughly 10 people and none spoke in public comment.

The policy was approved with some changes, including alterations to the review process based on board member feedback that gives employees a chance to give more input in regards to the exemption process. 

Nelson said more than anything, it was the explanation of how the policy would be enacted that has put the minds of both board members and employees at ease.

Hospital board chair Graham Jackson said the policy, as controversial as it was, was about taking care of both patients and employees.

“We’re here tonight because for two years we’ve been an unwilling participant in a global pandemic,” she said. “This has caused great division, and we want to be sure when we leave here tonight the pandemic doesn’t have another win. We need to have respect for people’s choices. 

“Do not let this come between family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. We want to make sure we can help in that way, however we can.”

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