St. Joe’s now requires vaccine for employees

St. Joseph Regional Medical Center will require its employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by early January to comply with federal mandates, a hospital spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.

The Lewiston hospital has set deadlines of Dec. 6 for employees to receive either the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and Jan. 4 for employees to receive the second dose in a two-shot series, spokeswoman Sam Skinner said.

“We are working diligently to ensure our team is compliant by the deadlines,” Skinner wrote in an email to the Lewiston Tribune. “If an employee does not get vaccinated or provide an exemption by the required deadlines, he or she will not be allowed to report to work and will be placed on unpaid administrative leave.”

St. Joe’s is making plans to comply with the mandate issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The hospital must be compliant with CMS rules in order to be able to accept Medicare and Medicaid payments, Skinner said.

Previously, the number of St. Joe’s employees who were vaccinated and documented their status with the hospital’s human resources department was “similar to that of our state’s vaccination rate,” Skinner wrote. Idaho’s vaccination rate of those 18 and older is 58.7 percent.

Since the mandate has been announced at St. Joe’s, “we are seeing a significant uptick in documentation forms being provided by employees,” Skinner wrote.

The CMS mandate allows for “appropriate medical or religious exemption,” Skinner said. A dedicated committee at the hospital will “vet religious and medical accommodation forms,” she added.

Since the vaccines first became available, St. Joe’s has “been strongly encouraging our employees and providers to get vaccinated, but it previously had not been a condition of employment,” Skinner said.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also issued a vaccine mandate for all private employers with 100 or more employees, but those rules have been put on hold by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

St. Joe’s is aware of the suspended OSHA guidelines, as well as legal challenges to the CMS mandate, Skinner said.

“St. Joe’s plans to fully comply with the current law as reflected in the federal mandate,” she wrote. “If there are any changes to the law, we will provide updated guidance at that time.”

Three deaths from COVID-19 were reported by health officials in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington on Wednesday.

The Public Health – Idaho North Central District website showed two deaths, one in Nez Perce County and one in Latah County. Both people who died were men in their 50s.

A virus death also was reported in Whitman County, which doesn’t release any details about those who die.

Baney may be contacted at mbaney@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2262. Follow him on Twitter @MattBaney_Trib.