North Platte Hospital Concerned about Potential Staffing Issues with Healthcare Vaccine Mandate

Nov. 15, 2021, 5 a.m. ·

Great Plains Health building from aerial view
Great Plains Health in North Platte currently has roughly 82 percent of its staff vaccinated, plus seven-percent exempt. (Photo courtesy of Great Plains Health)

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The leader of a North Platte-based rural hospital network is frustrated with a vaccine mandate handed down recently by the Biden Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

President Joe Biden and CMS announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate earlier this month for all healthcare workers. The rule applies to institutions receiving Medicare or Medicaid funding. Hospitals are expected to comply or federal financial support will be revoked. The mandate affects 17 million workers across the country.

Waist up photo of Mel McNea. He's wearing blue suit and light blue tie and standing beside an upper floor window.
Mel McNea is the CEO of Great Plains Health, which is based in North Platte. (Photo courtesy of Great Plains Health)

Mel McNea is the CEO of Great Plains Health in North Platte and said he supports vaccines, but fears he could lose 25 percent of his employees who aren’t currently vaccinated.

“If we lose staff in certain areas of our hospital right now, we’re at such a margin right now that we will have to limit or reduce the amount of patients that we can treat,” McNea said. “Transfer is not a good option right now just because all the hospitals in Nebraska are experiencing problems with enough staff.”

The Biden Administration said an earlier vaccine mandate applying to federal employees was successful. More than 90 percent of those workers are fully vaccinated, according to the White House report.

Nebraska’s attorney general, Doug Peterson, has joined nine other states in a lawsuit against the Biden Administration and CMS, contending its vaccine requirement for healthcare workers is not constitutional.

Official Complaint: Ten States vs. Biden Administration and CMS

McNea hopes CMS can make its restrictions less stringent, to be more like the OSHA vaccine mandate that offers weekly testing as an alternative.

“Those rules are a way to protect the patient and employees and there’s an option other than just mandating the vaccine,” McNea said. “Obviously, if OSHA feels that there are safe ways [to handle COVID in the workplace] and just came out with those, I would wish CMS would reconsider, too.”

Andy Hale headshot. He wears a black blazer with a red tie.
Andy Hale with Nebraska Hospital Association says the rural health system was already strained before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Nebraska Hospital Association)

Andy Hale is the vice president of advocacy for the Nebraska Hospital Association and said healthcare staffing was already thin for the 64 rural hospitals in Nebraska before the pandemic and it’s gotten worse since.

“This has become an issue and now they’re up against these vaccine rules, which is really going to compound a situation that was bad already and make it worse,” Hale said.

According to a March report from Becker’s Hospital Review, 136 rural hospitals have closed since 2010.

Great Plains Health service area map. They cover a large portion of Western Nebraska and that area is in purple on the map
Great Plains Health covers a large portion of Western Nebraska, as seen below. (image courtesy of Great Plains Health)