levine.alanmug - 1.jpg (copy)

Alan Levine

Beginning Jan. 4, all Ballad Health team members must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, unless they have an approved medical or religious exemption, according to the health care system’s top executive.

Ballad CEO Alan Levine notified Ballad employees of the deadline in an email Thursday evening.

The vaccine mandate for the health system comes through the federal mandate enacted by the United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

According to the federal mandate, hospitals and and other health care organizations which participate in Medicare and Medicaid must require their physicians, team members, volunteers, students, interns, vendors and any other individual who may come into contact with other individuals within the work setting to become vaccinated by one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines.

Levine said Ballad must comply if it is to remain a viable hospital system.

“This new rule is far-reaching and the implications are very serious for hospitals and health systems,” Levine wrote in the email. “Non-compliance by hospitals will lead to significant fines and, ultimately, termination from federal health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Given that rural health systems like Ballad Health rely so heavily on participating in Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs (more than 70% of our patients are those who depend on government insurance), the consequences for non-compliance would be devastating to our region.”

Weekly testing in lieu of vaccination will not be an option for Ballad employees as it will be for non-health care organizations and business with 100 or more employees.

According to Levine, the option for weekly testing was explicitly rejected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and does not apply to health care organizations that receive federal dollars for Medicare and Medicaid.

“Healthcare facilities are being held to a higher standard because of our critical role in ensuring the health and safety of patients,” Levine said in the email.

Ballad employees receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine must receive their first does by 6 p.m. on Dec. 5. The single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine must also be received by 6 p.m. on Dec. 5, according to Levine.

Ballad will reopen its vaccination points of distribution centers to increase access to the vaccine for its employees.

Any Ballad Health employees seeking a religious or medical exemption from the mandate must have their exemption request forms and any required documentation turned in by 4 p.m. on Nov. 24. Exemption requests will be evaluated by Dec. 1, with the system emailing employees to let them know if their exemption request has been approved.

Medical or religious exemption will be the only way for a Ballad employee to opt out of the vaccination mandate. Ballad’s carrying out of the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy was done with input from its regional Ethics Committee, according to system officials.

Ballad employees must have fully completed their COVID-19 vaccine series by Jan. 4.

Levine has been a strong advocate for vaccination. However, he said he does not support the federal vaccine mandate.

“Personally, I’ve made my opinion known on this topic for a while. I have strongly advocated that people choose to be vaccinated, and we – Ballad Health – have leaned heavily into educating people on the reasons why choosing to vaccinate is the best decision each can make. Ballad Health clinical leadership has done extensive work evaluating the evidence surrounding the vaccines, and they have been found to be safe and effective at preventing serious illness caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). As evidence of the medical community’s confidence in the vaccine, more than 95% of Ballad Health physicians and providers are fully vaccinated,” Levine said in the email.

“While I support each person choosing to be vaccinated, I also believe vaccination is a very personal decision. As I testified to before the United States Congress just a couple of weeks ago, I have raised serious concerns that a mandate such as the one imposed on us by the Biden administration will be highly disruptive to staffing, particularly in rural communities. I do believe there are very real cultural reasons why certain populations have concerns, and my preference would be to continue educating people, while encouraging them to make the choice for themselves.”

However, while Levine may not support the mandate, he said Ballad Health must and will comply to keep hospitals in the region operating.

“I am not the President, nor do I run CMS. So my opinion is just that … my opinion. The fiduciary responsibility of our Board of Directors and management team is to protect the public’s access to their hospitals, and to ensure we comply with federal law and the rules which apply to our participation in federal programs. Our Code of Conduct is clear on the matter, and deliberate non-compliance is not an option,” Levine told employees in the email. “I know that many have asked that we ‘fight this.’ As it stands, I have done more than any other health system CEO to oppose this sweeping federal mandate, up to and including testifying before the United States Congress. While some may be disappointed we will not do more to fight this rule, suffice it to say our opinion has been shared and heard.”

About 63% of Ballad’s approximately 15,000 employees are fully vaccinated.

Levine hopes that all Ballad employees will choose to comply with the vaccine mandate rather than quit working for the hospital system.

“It is my sincere prayer that all team members will choose to continue working with Ballad Health to serve our communities. We are grateful for the care, commitment, and compassion you have shown our patients since the start of this pandemic and every day you’re on the job,” Levine said in the email. “However, we understand only you can make this personal choice for yourself and your family.”

Recommended for you