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Some Tampa area hospitals make plans to comply with the federal vaccine mandate

an aerial shot of Sarasota Memorial Hospital
Sarasota Memorial Hospital
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Officials with Sarasota Memorial Hospital say they plan to comply with the Biden administration’s order to vaccinate all staff members, with some religious and medical exemptions allowed.

Hospitals are grappling with what to do, since federal and state law are at odds, and both carry financial penalties for non-compliance.

The Supreme Court is the nation's highest tribunal, but its decision last week allowing vaccine mandates in hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding has created a legal quagmire for Florida hospitals.

Some, like Tampa General Hospital, Sarasota Memorial and HCA hospitals, say they plan to comply with the Biden administration’s order to vaccinate all staff members, with some religious and medical exemptions allowed.

Many other hospitals are still working out how to proceed, because state law in Florida bans vaccine mandates, and allows for hefty fines to be placed on facilities that enforce them.

"We're in a difficult position. And certainly, nobody wants to anger the federal government or the state government. You want to follow the law. It gets hard if they're in direct opposition to each other," said Justin Senior, CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) said earlier this month it would not survey hospitals for compliance with the federal vaccine rule.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law in November 2021 banning vaccine mandates in the state, and allowing for $10,000 fines per employee in businesses of under 100 people that mandate vaccines, and up to $50,000 per employee in larger businesses.

More legal guidance is needed as to whether federal law supersedes state law, or vice versa, Senior said.

"This almost might have to come to a head somewhere where either a fine is imposed, or someone tries to withhold Medicaid or Medicare money, but you hope it doesn't come to that," he said.

Asked for comment, several hospitals in the greater Tampa Bay region said more than 80 percent of staff are already vaccinated.

A spokeswoman for HCA hospitals said they are still reviewing the details but “given the recent Supreme Court ruling, we will implement, in accordance with the CMS mandate rules, the requirement to vaccinate our healthcare workers who are covered by this policy unless they qualify for an exemption.

The HCA statement added: “If we do not comply with the CMS mandate, we could compromise our ability to serve our communities and provide care to patients under the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

Sarasota Memorial Hospital says it is working to ensure all staff has received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine by January 27th, “or have a pending/approved request for an exemption or temporary delay as recommended by the CDC.”

SMH is aiming for “100% compliance with all of the parameters of the rule by Feb 28 (unless we receive further guidance on those dates),” said spokeswoman Kim Savage, adding that about 86% of employees have been vaccinated.

Tampa General Hospital said in statement: “As the mandate currently stands, Tampa General Hospital will be required to comply. Our primary goal is keeping our team members and physicians safe and continuing to care for patients.”

A spokeswoman for Baycare said via email: “Now that the nation’s highest court has lifted the injunction on the vaccination mandate for health care workers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, BayCare will work over the next few days to review the decision and its relationship to Florida’s vaccination laws to fully understand the impact on our unvaccinated health care workers.”

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
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