The Sierra Vista Hospital governing board’s August 26 regular meeting included a finance report which showed July to be the facility’s second best month for the year, fiscally speaking. While this report would ordinarily cheer the board, a looming vaccination mandate issued by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham prompted members into an involved and concerned discussion.
The governing board acknowledged the Governor’s mandate for healthcare workers, hospitals and health care facilities, which is set to go into effect statewide Friday, August 27. This measure would mandate vaccinations for all employees, effectively forcing the hand of medical and support staff at SVH and across the state.
Failure of SVH or any other hospital to comply with the governor’s health order could see significant sanctions placed upon the respective facility. Included in these possible actions is a $5,000 per day fine, potential loss of Medicaid and/or Medicare revenue, and with continued noncompliance, a potential takeover of hospital administration by state authorities.
Recognizing how these possible actions could cripple SVH’s ability to operate, governing board members agreed they had no choice but to comply with the mandate. However, they also agreed that implementing the order without first assuring employees were fully informed about all aspects of the health order and expectations. could be detrimental to the facility. In this regard, the board ultimately agreed to draft a letter to the governor stating SVH’s intent to comply with the vaccination mandate, but seeking a delay until September 10 to allow for thorough communication with all staff members.
As the governor’s mandate stood Thursday afternoon, employees who do not qualify for established exemptions and are not vaccinated, can face termination beginning August 27. In a questionable addition to this potential action, board members were told the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions would also be denying unemployment compensation for employees that may be fired for refusing the vaccine.
It was noted how this action by the governor would essentially amount to extortion for some percentage of SVH staffers and heath care workers across New Mexico. The governing board acknowledged how SVH had already accepted the resignation of a staff member, who was vaccinated, but then chose to step away in response to the governor’s mandate. Members questioned how many other staff members and health care worker might choose a similar path.
While the board was presented with a proposed policy that would among other points, enforce the vaccination mandate and potentially increase testing, members ultimately voted to postpone consideration of the measure until a special meeting can be convened prior to September 10.
The governing board did unanimously approve a motion to draft the aforementioned letter to Governor Grisham, assuring SVH’s intent to comply, despite placing the facility in non-compliance after the statewide order goes into effect August 27.
•Governing board members were also presented with copies of a draft letter compiled by officials with the New Mexico Rural Hospital Network in response to requests from Chief Executive Officers overseeing 11 hospitals and health facilities across the state, including SVH. This letter points out the CEOs’ mutual concerns about “unintended consequences,” notes how none of the hospitals in New Mexico were consulted about potential issues prior to the health order, and goes on to ask the governor to instead consider “strongly encouraging” vaccinations and requiring two tests per week for those opting to refrain from the vaccine.
•In reviewing the proposed policy for SVH, governing board members further recognized previous statements attributed to some non-vaccinated staff members, which highlighted a feeling of being discriminated against by COVID-19 testing policies. To this point, board members discussed including a 100-percent testing provision, which would assure the regular testing of all staff members. However, when Chief Financial Officer Ming Huang pointed out that current tests now cost between $50 and $70 per person, the board indicated they would have to reconsider their approach toward staff testing before moving to finalize SVH’s policy in September.