Supreme Court Strikes Down Vaccine Mandate For Private Employers
Orlando Sentinel (FL)
The Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to strike down vaccine mandates for private businesses but uphold the requirement for health care workers will impact Central Florida’s two largest hospital systems: AdventHealth, which employs around 36,000 health care workers across greater Orlando, and Orlando Health, which employs over 23,000 workers.
Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, urged Florida hospitals to comply with these requirements, saying that the Supreme Court’s decision clearly acknowledged the right of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to enact and enforce this mandate.
“Florida’s hospitals are committed to ensuring access to care for millions of elderly Floridians who depend on Medicare,” Mayhew wrote. “Hospitals are obligated to remain compliant with the programs’ conditions of participation and must comply with this federal vaccine requirement now upheld by the highest court.”
Nearly 4.7 million Floridians use Medicare or Medicaid as their insurance.
The mandate requires health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or get tested weekly in order for a facility to continue receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding. It offers religious and medical exceptions.
Thursday’s ruling does not end the legal battles over the vaccine mandate. It just allows the mandate to be enforced while lawsuits over the mandate continue to play out.
The ruling contradicts a Florida law that requires businesses to offer a much wider range of exceptions when asking workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The Florida law, passed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Nov. 18, threatens $50,000 per violation for large companies such as AdventHealth or Orlando Health that enact mandates.
DeSantis has repeatedly argued vaccine mandate decisions should be left to the states. DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Mayhew acknowledged that there is likely confusion, given that hospitals are being told to do different things by state and federal governments, even though federal law typically overrides state law.
“Hospitals do not want to be caught between the state and federal governments and may still need clarity from the courts regarding federal preemption regarding the Florida state law,” she wrote.
Some large health care systems with locations in Central Florida — Nemours Children’s Health and UF Health — required staff vaccinations before Biden or DeSantis made their laws, so this ruling won’t change much.
AdventHealth and Orlando Health now must enact a mandate, if they have not.
The current deadline for health care workers to get their first COVID-19 shot is two weeks away, on Jan. 27, with a second due by Feb. 28 for those receiving vaccines that require double doses.
AdventHealth previously followed federal law and enacted a vaccine mandate for staff.
However, after a judge halted the federal mandate in December, AdventHealth paused its mandate, which had yet to meet its deadline. AdventHealth Central Florida did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday after the court’s ruling.
When asked if Orlando Health will enact a vaccine mandate, spokesperson Kena Lewis said it will continue to encourage vaccinations for staff but stopped short of sharing whether it will mandate or has already mandated shots.
“Our original statement stands,” she wrote. “Orlando Health continues to review the guidelines regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirements for healthcare organizations and will take appropriate steps. As a healthcare organization, we continue to strongly encourage vaccinations for all team members and physicians at Orlando Health.”