By January 4, nearly 17 million health care workers will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Biden administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid are requiring workers in most health care settings that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.
While some mid-Missouri hospitals are inching toward 100% of their employees vaccinated against COVID-19, other hospitals still have nearly 40% unvaccinated.
ABC 17 News contacted 14 mid-Missouri hospitals to get their employee vaccination rate, six hospitals responded with their current status as of the end of October.
MU Health Care reports some of the highest percentages in mid-Missouri, while Phelps Health and Bothwell Regional report some of the lowest.
Steve Davis, Chief Financial Officer at Bothwell Regional Health Center, told ABC 17 News it’s continuing to encourage staff to get vaccinated but worries staffing shortages loom.
Out of the 906 employees that work at Bothwell Regional Health Center, about 65 people said in an internal survey they would likely leave the job if they were forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“You know for employers our size, it could be very devastating for us,” Davis said. "In some departments, it could lose 50% of its staff and in others it could be 100%."
In early 2021, Bothwell Regional Health was forced to shut down its third floor, otherwise known as the orthopedic floor, due to a lack of staff.
"It's extremely frustrating because you know this is a 25-bed unit that was in use before," Davis said. "I don't know if we'll ever get enough staff to open this backup."
Right now, Bothwell Regional has 87 nursing positions open, to staff the third floor alone, the hospital would need to hire an additional 36.
Brock Slabach, Chief Operations Officer for the National Rural Hospital Association fears staffing shortages hospitals were feeling before the pandemic could continue.
"We're hearing reports all over the United States that this vaccine mandate may cause three to
five percent of employees in any given facility to quit because they don't want to comply," Slabach said. "In a small hospital that may not sound like very much but in a small hospital that can make a huge difference in meeting the needs of patients."
According to Slabach and Davis, with not enough staff at any given hospital patients could see some services either limited or closed off.
"Hospitals are going to have to reallocate their staffing to make sure their priority areas are covered," Slabach said. "So they may have to close down their surgery department. That could create some downstream troubles for patients not getting the service when they need."
Whether staff shortages are because of a vaccine mandate or because of other reasons, Dr. Robin Blount with Boone Health in Columbia told ABC 17 News it's also experiencing staff shortages.
"Whether there's a mandate or not many people have left the health profession over the course of the pandemic, whether it's because of burnout or just other concerns. The national nursing shortage is real," Blount said.
To help with some of those shortages hiring travel nurses has become a must for hospitals, but it's coming at a cost.
"These companies are asking for premium dollars, sometimes three to five times what we pay a nurse," Blount said.
Bothwell Regional has 44 contract labor employees, in the month of October Davis said the hospital spent $1.4 million.
"In the short term, our hospitals are paying that because they're forced to. In the long term, this is going to be terribly detrimental financially," Slabach said.
Dave Dillion with the Missouri Hospital Association said it is working to recruit more health care workers to Missouri but that will take some time.
"We are working with hospitals, educators, the government on all levels to try and build programs to fill those gaps. Unfortunately, it takes between about two and 12 years to produce a health care professional that provides care. You simply can't turn on a dime and build a workforce. You have to invest in it fairly early," Dillion said.
Dillion told ABC 17 News so far it hasn't seen any mass terminations or resignations because of a COVID-19 mandate.
Ultimately, we need to be able to provide the care that is necessary in a safe way for patients. We need to protect our hospital workforce from the virus as well," Dillion said. "We can't afford to lose people in the long run."