California Mandates COVID-19 Vaccinations for All Non-Exempt Hospital Workers by September 30
As COVID-19’s Delta variant surges across California, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) again took action to help curtail the transmission of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations. Effective August 5, 2021, with full compliance required by September 30, 2021, all California hospital workers must be fully vaccinated, unless they are exempt for a religious or qualifying medical reason. If the workers are exempt from vaccination, they must submit to COVID-19 testing at least twice weekly.
These new requirements are stricter than those in the July 26, 2021 order that we have described previously. That earlier order, effective August 9, 2021, permitted hospital workers to choose whether to be vaccinated or tested regularly. The new order requires vaccination unless hospital workers qualify for an exemption. In light of the different compliance deadlines in the two orders, medical staffs should consider simply complying immediately with the CDPH’s later August 5 order, and consulting legal counsel with any related timing concerns.
In light of these developments, medical staffs should act quickly to update their policies and ensure compliance. Actions should include:
- Amending existing medical staff vaccination policies to add COVID-19 and its variants to the required vaccinations. If possible, medical staff members should be notified of the policy change and invited to comment on it. This may be difficult to accomplish on short notice, but medical staff leaders should request comments from members to the extent reasonably possible, even if the comments come in after the policy takes effect.
- Adding provisions necessary to comply with the State Public Health Officer’s August 5 order that health care “workers” (in this case medical staff members) are either fully vaccinated or qualify for an exemption.
- Establishing a lawful and enforceable consequence for non-compliance. A properly adopted policy might provide, for example, that medical staff members who do not comply will be automatically suspended until such time as they are back in compliance. The policy should make clear that any such suspension is administrative in nature, much like a suspension for delinquent medical records, and thus does not trigger hearing rights or reports to the Medical Board of California or National Practitioner Data Bank.
- Seeking approval for the policy from the medical executive committee and the hospital governing body. Given the short time frames, policy approvals may require emergency action, pursuant to the medical staff and hospital board bylaws. Medical executive committees and hospital boards may wish to consider holding an emergency meeting by Zoom or telephone to approve the amendments.
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