JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Ballad Health is praising the end of a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate that it opposed and that cost some workers their jobs. The hospital system is ending its federally required vaccine requirement for employees immediately, and CEO Alan Levine said workers who left or were fired over the mandate are eligible for rehire.

“Ballad Health forcefully opposed the COVID-19 vaccine mandate at the time it was imposed, and I testified before Congress in opposition to the mandate,” Levine wrote in a Wednesday email to Ballad staff members.

A total of 63 out of Ballad’s 13,000-odd employees ended up unable to work when they refused to get fully vaccinated by a February 2022 deadline.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday it would end the mandate for health care and federal workers on May 11 and that it’s also officially ending the COVID-19 public health emergency that same day.

Levine said during the controversy over the health care worker mandate that Ballad essentially had to comply or risk losing its federal Medicare and Medicaid/TennCare reimbursements.

Levine also wrote that “given the low volumes of COVID-19 we are seeing in the hospitals currently, I have stood down the Corporate Emergency Command Center (CEOC).”

Levine thanked Ballad employees for their work during the pandemic and singled out Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton, who led the CEOC team. He acknowledged the tremendous impact it had on workers’ personal and professional lives and referenced its impact on staffing, which has led to very high labor costs for contract (travel) staff,

“(G)iven the labor shortages we now face, we know we have work to do in order to dig our way out of the lasting impact of COVID on our health system,” Levine added.

He wrote that Ballad “has stood out nationally as a health system that has delivered for its region…” during COVID-19 and is “being held up as an example of a health system that did it right.”

New hires at Ballad will not be required to be vaccinated due to the policy change.