Biden vaccine rule for health workers blocked in NH, nine other states

  • FILE - In this Wednesday. Oct. 13, 2021, file photo, audience members gather during a meeting of New Hampshire's Executive Council in Concord, N.H. Republicans in New Hampshire are struggling to contain a wing of their party that is promoting conspiracy views around the Covid-19 vaccine and pushing back, sometimes aggressively, regarding federal mandates to get the shot. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer, File) Holly Ramer

  • FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2021, file photo, demonstrators attend a press conference that turned into a rally against vaccine mandates outside the Statehouse in Concord, N.H. Republicans in New Hampshire are struggling to contain a wing of their party that is promoting conspiracy views around the Covid-19 vaccine and pushing back, sometimes aggressively, regarding federal mandates to get the shot. (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP) Geoff Forester

Monitor staff
Published: 11/29/2021 3:51:49 PM

The vaccination deadline for dozens of healthcare employees has been indefinitely suspended in New Hampshire after a federal judge on Monday blocked a federal mandate.

The Biden administration required vaccines for employees of facilities that rely on federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars, which applies to about 70 nursing homes in the Granite State and nearly every hospital and large medical center. Employees were to have received either their first dose of a two-shot vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson by Dec. 5.

A federal judge on Monday blocked the administration from enforcing that mandate on thousands of health care workers in 10 states that had brought the first legal challenge against the requirement. The federal government will be unable to enforce the vaccine mandate within New Hampshire and the nine other plaintiff states until further notice.

The court order said that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate for providers participating in the two government health care programs for the elderly, disabled, and poor.

The preliminary injunction by St. Louis-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp applies to a coalition of suing states that includes New Hampshire, Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Similar lawsuits also are pending in other states.

Some New Hampshire facilities were facing threats from staff who said they wouldn’t go to work if the mandate was enforced.

“This is a big win for New Hampshire’s health care system,” Gov. Chris Sununu in a statement. “Nursing homes were at risk of closure if the Biden mandate remained in place. This helps maintain the staff New Hampshire needs to care for our loved ones.”

Belknap County Nursing Home in Laconia was preparing to rehome about a third of its residents as they expected a large swath of employees to quit over the December deadline. Other health care organizations that implemented their own mandates have said they have seen negligible staff turnover.

The federal rule would have required COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers nationwide at about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care providers.

Biden’s administration contends federal rules supersede state policies prohibiting vaccine mandates and are essential to slowing the pandemic. But the judge in the health care provider case wrote that federal officials likely overstepped their legal powers.

“CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism,” Schelp wrote in his order.

The court order against the health care vaccine mandate comes after Biden’s administration suffered a similar setback for a broader policy. New Hampshire joined several other Republican-led states in a lawsuit challenging a separate rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers get vaccinated or else wear masks and get tested weekly for the coronavirus. A federal court placed a hold on that rule earlier this month.

Sununu sent a letter to the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Monday, asking OSHA to delay the large businesses vaccine mandate for two months, in case the lawsuit is not ultimately successful and New Hampshire businesses need to quickly come into compliance.

“Absent that action, families and businesses are left with mixed messages from Washington and face draconian decisions during the holiday season,” the letter read. “Heavy-handed decisions from Washington have left everyone confused - and the citizens and businesses of New Hampshire deserve clarity.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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