Southwest VA congressman predicts significant health care job departures over vaccine mandate

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Griffith expects biggest immediate impact in long-term care, home health

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Virginia Ninth District Rep. Morgan Griffith wasn’t shocked by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision essentially upholding the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for a wide swath of America’s health care workforce.

But the Salem Republican, who has spoken out against such a mandate in congressional committees, expects significant negative consequences in his district, where vaccination rates are low.

“Because the federal government pays so much for health care on various individuals, that’s where they came from and we just have to deal with that,” Griffith said.

As he has before, though, Griffith said he believes the mandate is bad policy. 

“They’re not paying attention to the negative impacts that are going to happen at our hospitals, our nursing homes, our long term care facilities and just health care in general,” he told News Channel 11 Thursday afternoon. 

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberal justices in a decision that removes an injunction that was delaying the law’s implementation until appeals could work their way fully through the courts.

On Dec. 1, following the injunction, Ballad Health had reversed a vaccine mandate that it imposed after the order was first issued. That order comes from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and applies to providers who are paid through the programs it administers, which includes the vast majority.

Griffith said Ballad isn’t the only health care provider in his district that’s already facing stress he thinks will be exacerbated by a mandate. Other systems have said the same to him.

“They were already stressed trying to find the right people to work, to be there to provide services in these rural areas and now CMS, the federal government the Biden administration are going to make that a lot tougher,” the congressman said. “Supreme Court said they could do it – they never said they should do it.” 

Griffith, who is vaccinated and boosted and a believer in the mRNA technology behind the new vaccines, said he still believes COVID vaccination should be a personal decision. And he thinks while some people who haven’t been vaccinated may gripe about the mandate but roll up their sleeves, many others won’t.

Even though numerous hospital systems have had mandates in place since long before the federal one and have kept those in place, Griffith said he still foresees a significant number of departures in his district. 

He’s particularly concerned about workers who aren’t doctors are nurses but are critical to the successful operation of facilities.

“You’re going to see those care providers who are not necessarily on the front lines dropping out,” Grifith said. “Well, the people on the front lines, the doctors, the nurses, they can’t do their job if they don’t have that support team.” 

Griffith expects to see consequences most quickly at lower-paying employers.

“It’s possible that you won’t see that immediately in the hospitals. I think where you’re going to see it more is in assisted living, home health, nursing homes, long term care facilities. I think you’re going to see a real problem there and when the staffing ratios get to a certain point, they have to close the facility down, then who takes care of folks – sometimes the family steps in sometimes they can’t.

“They’re like, ‘why am I going to do something I’m uncomfortable with for a job that I love … and it’s not so much money that I can’t afford not to walk away from it.” 

At the hospital level, Griffith thinks systems will likely be able to staff critical care, but other impacts will be felt. 

“If you’re supposed to be having some kind of elective surgery or an elective process it’s probably going to have a negative impact on you even at the hospitals, but my greater concern in the short run would be the collateral damage to our health care system outside of the hospitals.” 

Griffith said in this case the “cure” that can come from a higher percentage of vaccinated health care workers may be worse than the disease. 

“I think CMS has made a huge error and I think the Biden administration will rue this from a public policy standpoint … people are going to be left without care and we’re gonna have some problems.” 

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