Ballad Health officials say the system will comply with a mandate requiring all employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine after reviewing an announcement Thursday from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services that vaccinations will be required at health care facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid programs.

“Our initial assessment leads us to the conclusion that our conditions of participation with Medicare and other government programs is dependent upon our compliance with this new mandate, which provides exceptions from the mandate only for medical or religious reasons,” reads a statement issued by Ballad on Thursday.

Facilities covered by this regulation must establish a policy ensuring all eligible staff have received the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment or other services by Dec. 5.

All eligible staff must have received the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated – either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson – by Jan. 4.

The regulation provides for exemptions based on recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances or practices. Facilities must develop a similar process or plan for permitting exemptions in alignment with federal law.

According to Ballad Health, more than 70% of the health are system’s patients depend on government insurance such as Medicare and Medicaid. As a result, Ballad Health officials say they are drafting a policy to be implemented that is compliant with the rules.

Ballad officials have previously said that slightly over 60% of the system’s employees are fully vaccinated.

“Ballad Health must comply with federal rules for participation in the Medicare program, or we risk jeopardizing the very existence of our hospitals and other critical services needed to serve our region,” reads the statement issued by Ballad on Thursday.

“Ballad Health has articulated very clearly our concerns this mandate could have on staffing for the needs of our region during a time where the nation, and rural regions in particular, suffer from the worst clinical staffing shortage in history. We remain concerned this will negatively affect service and our ability to respond to the medical needs of our region, though we have no choice but to comply.”

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