A healthcare worker receiving a vaccine shot
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West Virginia and Virginia’s requests for a waiver from the healthcare worker COVID-19 vaccine mandate for rural providers and state-run facilities likely won’t be granted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. But the agency has assured that it will work with states and providers struggling to comply with the regulation, according to a published report.

CMS on Tuesday sent a return letter to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) saying it would directly contact worrisome state-run facilities the governors identify. The agency letter also stressed the importance of healthcare workers being vaccinated, Becker’s Hospital Review reported

CMS did not respond to a request from McKnight’s Long-Term Care News for details by production deadline Wednesday. But provider leaders expressed gratitude for the added attention and concern for the future.

“We appreciate CMS working with governors Justice and Youngkin to find opportunities for some flexibility and strategies for rural hospitals and providers that experience staffing difficulties due to the federal mandate,” Marty Wright, president and CEO of the West Virginia Health Care Association, told McKnight’s on Wednesday. 

Current federal data shows that West Virginia has a staff vaccination rate of about 88%. Virginia has a rate of 92%, according to the Virginia Health Care Association/Virginia Center for Assisted Living. 

The latter association hasn’t heard much concern beyond providers who have already voiced complaints about losing a handful of people due to the vaccine mandate, according to VHCA/VCAL Vice President of Strategy and Communications Amy Hewett. 

“By and large, we have seen a lot of hard work by our administrators, by our nurse leadership teams to get staff vaccinated,” Hewett told McKnight’s

“The support we need is our Medicaid rates to match with the cost of care. That’s a big concern in Virginia because that’s going to help us with our staffing and help us to get out of this situation where facilities are limiting or putting holds on admissions, and help get our occupancy rates back up,” she added. 

The CMS letter this week was in response to an initial request made earlier this month by Youngkin and Justice to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. 

“We have seen that healthcare systems that implement vaccine requirements are not experiencing dramatic staff losses. Vaccinated staff are instead more available to work since they are less likely to get sick,” the agency told the governors. “Increasing the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, including the booster shot, is the most important tool against staffing shortages.”

The agency on Tuesday also promised to continue working with states and providers on the mandate and asked the West Virginia and Virginia governors to provide a list of state-run facilities they are concerned about, according to the report.

CMS added that it will “reach out directly to those facilities to better understand their individual circumstances so we can help them come into compliance.”