Healthcare workers at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Palmer have until March 15 to complete their “primary vaccination series” for Covid. The only exceptions are for those who have been granted an exemption.
In the meantime, employees who are not “fully vaccinated,” as well as those granted exemptions, must adhere to strict physical distancing measures, take weekly Covid tests, and wear restrictive N95 masks throughout their shifts. These measures are mandated regardless of whether employees provide direct care or interact with patients.
These new rules were sent to employees last week, as the hospital attempts to adhere to federal vax mandates for health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
The rules stipulate that unvaxxed employees must also social distance even in “areas that are restricted from patient access,” such as staff meeting rooms and the employee kitchen.
A nurse from Mat-Su Regional notified the Watchman about the updated rules, and provided a copy of them.
“I don’t think most people are aware that we have been required to come in on our own time for every-other-week Covid testing regardless of symptoms for the past several months,” she said. “This next week, those guidelines are changing to weekly testing, and also the addition of N95 use during your entire shift.”
The nurse said the hospital is “only requiring the unvaccinated to comply with these measures.”
The new mandates are being enforced despite widespread transmission of the Omicron variant among vaxxed and unvaxxed alike, and a lack of scientific data showing that masks, distancing and testing can slow the spread of new and emerging Covid variants.
The nurse said it was “punitive to require unvaccinated, non-symptomatic employees (with a negative Covid test) to wear a restrictive N95 for 12+ hours regardless of whether they are providing direct patient care or not. These are measures designed to force compliance with vaccination.”
The nurse reached out to the Alaska Watchman in order to let the public know how local healthcare providers are being treated in the Mat-Su hospital.
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“I request that my name be left out of any reporting as I’m worried about retaliation and losing my job,” she said. “I know a lot of my coworkers are in the same predicament and I hope that in raising awareness maybe we can facilitate some support to fight these non-evidence-based requirements.”
The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued new guidance on its healthcare worker vaccine mandate after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the mandate to be enforced while several states challenge it in court.
According to the latest guidance from CMS, facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid in 24 states must ensure that their employees have at least one dose of the Covid shot by Feb. 14, and are deemed fully vaxxed by March 15.
The new deadlines apply to 24 states, including Alaska.
Failure to adhere to the mandate can result in a healthcare facility being terminated from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.