Florida providers are working toward complying with the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate — despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) pledge that the state won’t enforce the regulation.
The U.S. Supreme Court lifted injunctions against the mandate Thursday. Immediately afterward, the DeSantis administration said its surveyors would not check for compliance.
DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw declared in an emailed statement that the state would not serve as the Biden administration’s “biomedical police” by following the Supreme Court’s move to uphold the mandate. “Firing unvaccinated healthcare workers, many of whom have infection-conferred immunity, is unethical and unscientific on its face,” she added.
It was unclear whether any other governors would follow through with similar defiance of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rule.
Nursing homes are “obligated to comply” with it, despite the differences between federal and Florida state law, according to Nick Van Der Linden, LeadingAge Florida’s director of communications.
Further complicating things, however, DeSantis signed legislation in November that prohibits private employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccination without offering broad exemptions. It also blocks government entities from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees.
“The loss of Medicaid and Medicare funding for not following the federal law could be devastating to providers and ultimately displace Florida’s most frail elders,” Van Der Linden told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Tuesday. “The uncertainty caused by the differences between the federal rule and state law only exacerbates an already difficult situation.”
LeadingAge Florida will continue its education campaign, which focuses on understanding staff vaccination hesitancy and explaining the benefits of getting vaccinated.
The Florida Health Care Association said that given that federal law supersedes state law, its members are working toward complying with the CMS rule. The risk of losing Medicaid or Medicare funding is too great for participating providers.
“Our state regulatory agency has indicated it will not survey for compliance with the CMS rule, and the newly enacted Florida law does allow for exemptions to vaccinations so documentation will be key in those instances,” Kristen Knapp, senior director of strategy and communications for the Florida Health Care Association, told McKnight’s.
Just over 75% of all nursing home staff in the state are currently fully vaccinated, according to state data.