JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine released a statement Thursday saying any individual who may come into contact with other individuals in the workplace must be vaccinated by Jan. 4.

According to Levine, the decision comes after President Joe Biden’s order and the release of a new rule by the United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that requires that physicians, team members, volunteers, students, interns, vendors or anyone else who may come into contact with another person while at work must receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines.

Levine says non-compliance by hospitals would not only lead to fines but also the termination from federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The statement says that more than 70% of Ballad’s patients rely on government insurance and that the termination of the programs would have devasting consequences not just for Ballad, but for the Tri-Cities region.

Levine continued by saying that, unlike companies that have 100 or more employees where employees have the ability to take a weekly COVID-19 test if they choose not to take the vaccine, the option was rejected by CMS and does not apply to companies that receive federal money from Medicare and Medicaid.

Levine says that he believes that the best route to take is to encourage people to get vaccinated and educate them on the facts of the vaccine. He states that he voiced his concerns about the Biden administration’s mandate in front of Congress citing that he believes it would be, “highly disruptive to staffing, particularly in rural communities.”

The statement also says that more than 95% percent of Ballad health physicians and providers are already fully vaccinated.

After much consideration, Ballad has decided to establish the ‘Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccine Policy’ under which a valid medical or religious exemption is the only way to bypass getting the vaccine.

Team members that wish to apply for an exemption will be required to fill out an exemption form that will then be turned in and either accepted or rejected. The forms must be returned by 4 p.m. on Nov. 24 and Ballad will “endeavor” to evaluate the request by Dec. 1, according to the statement.

Team members who wish to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine must receive their first dose by Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. Those who wish to get the Johnson and Johnson shot must also receive the vaccine by Dec. 5 at 6 p.m.

The statement from Levine says that Ballad will open its points of distribution centers in an effort to increase vaccine access to team members.

Levine adds in the statement that pregnant women will have the option of requesting a deferral, citing a medical condition after consulting with an OB/GYN.

Levine ends the statement by saying that he hopes that team members will continue to keep working with Ballad Health and serving the community.