Between a Rock and a Hard Place
At the Pocahontas County Commission special meeting on December 16th, when the commissioners reached the agenda item regarding a personnel matter at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, they were about to go into an Executive Session, however Commissioner Rebinski suggested that they first discuss with the hospital’s CEO, Andrew Bair the general controversy among the staff there regarding a proposed vaccine mandate.
Rebinski asked Bair about the hospital’s Vaccine Committee. Bair explained that committee is made up of three people, the hospital’s CEO, CFO and Chief Nurse. He said the committee had also handled the issues regarding the flu vaccine. Bair said the committee handles medical and religious requests for exemptions vaccine mandates. They rely on a physician to determine the validity of any medical exemption requests and on a law firm that specializes in Human Resources to determine the validity of any religious exemption requests. And, he said that a large number of employees have or will apply for one of these exemptions.
Bair said the problem the hospital has had with the possibility of a vaccine mandate is that they could lose a number of employees if it is implemented. He said some employees have already left and others are looking for other jobs that won’t require they receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
For right now, Bair said, the issue has somewhat cooled down because the courts have put a hold on the government forcing the vaccine mandate on all health-care workers, but he reminded the commissioners, that can change at any time.
Bair said that while other hospital organizations in the state have initiated their own vaccine mandates, PMH has held off doing that and is waiting to see what happens with the court cases. The mandate issue, according to Bair, has divided the employees. Some threaten to quit if a mandate is issued, while others are quite passionate in supporting a mandate, creating some conflict among some of the staff.
Commissioner Rebinski said that according to his personal research into the vaccines, it looks like even people vaccinated fully can still catch and can still spread the COVID virus. He suggested maybe it would decrease some of the conflict among staff members if both sides could understand that the unvaccinated and the vaccinated are not really a threat to each other.
Bair said he doesn’t disagree with what Rebinski said, but his first priority is to ensure the hospital survives this crisis, and if the courts allow the government to enforce the mandate for health-care workers, and if PMH were to not enforce it, the hospital could lose all of its federal Medicaid and Medicare income which make up about 80% of the hospital’s income. So, he said, since the hospital could not survive without that income, he will have to enforce the mandate if the court hold is lifted. He acknowledges that PMH may lose a lot of good staff if that happens, but that would likely be survivable.
After that discussion, the commission went into closed session to discuss a personnel incident concerning one employee that arose out of this conflict over the vaccine mandate.
The other item on the agenda, concerned one specific property and house that had been damaged during the June 13th flood. The home owners are trying to sell the damaged home and are also looking for the commission to help them demolish it. Chuck Grishaber, Director of the WV Flood Insurance Plan, Office of the Insurance Commissioner, explained that the commission has three options open to it. There are:
- To initiate “Acquisition/Demolition” where the county would become the landowner, but that land must forever remain “open space,” or:
- “Mitigation Reconstruction” through FEMA where an engineer will oversee a reconstruction of the home, or:
- For the commission to Just stay out of it.
He said the homeowner can sell it at anytime during the Acquisition/Demolition or the Mitigation Reconstruction processes and any money already spent on those processes by the county would simply be lost.
The commissioners said they needed to think about this more before making any decision on it.