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West Virginia Seeks Waiver For Rural Hospital Workers From Federal COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Governor Jim Justice said the mandate would make it difficult for rural hospitals to provide their patients with care

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice will request the Biden Administration to allow rural hospital workers to opt-out of the nationwide vaccine mandate.

In 2021, President Joe Biden issued a mandate requiring any employee at a health care facility that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Approximately 10.4 million workers at more than 76,000 facilities across the country were impacted by the mandate. The Supreme Court ruled in January that the federal government was within its legal right to issue the mandate.

According to Justice, West Virginia hospitals are understaffed because workers left the health care field during the pandemic.

The governor, who has been an advocate for vaccinations, announced in December that $48 million of federal stimulus money would be used to recruit and train nurses over the next four years.

The National Guard has sent hundreds of members with medical training to assist with staffing shortages at hospitals, nursing homes and psychiatric facilities.

The governor announced his plan to seek a waiver during his Jan. 31 coronavirus media briefing.

Justice said populous areas were able to handle their caseload while implementing the vaccine mandate. He said the Biden administration’s mandate will exacerbate staffing issues at already strained hospitals.

Justice said Biden’s mandate for health care workers “is putting an additional level of strain on our rural hospitals that is just destroying us.” 

It’s going to make it tougher and tougher and tougher for us to provide care in our rural hospitals,” he added. “We can’t afford to lose anybody. We can’t absolutely afford to be firing people.” 

While he said health care workers should be encouraged to get the vaccine, Justice added, “We should be respectful of their values.”

“We can’t shut the hospital down. That’s all there is to it,” the governor added. “We’ve got people that are a long ways from anywhere and the hospital is absolutely essential to them. And so we need that waiver granted. That’s for sure.”

West Virginia’s Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said at the briefing that the state’s government was trying to weigh the “risk-benefit” ratio.

“Of course, we want to see as many people vaccinated and boosted as we possibly can, but that balance between making sure we can keep the doors open in these rural hospitals and making sure that everybody is fully vaccinated and boosted is a difficult challenge in some areas,” Marsh said.

Justice said he hopes the Biden Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will give his request serious consideration.

Tennessee and Virginia have both made similar requests of the Biden administration.

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