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Lack of a vaccine mandate becomes competitive advantage in hospital staffing wars

1 16 32
03.09.2021

In the rural northeastern corner of Missouri, Scotland County Hospital has been so low on staff that it sometimes had to turn away patients amid a surge in covid-19 cases.

The national covid staffing crunch means CEO Dr. Randy Tobler has hired more travel nurses to fill the gaps. And the prices are steep — what he called "crazy" rates of $200 an hour or more, which Tobler said his small rural hospital cannot afford.

A little over 60% of his staff is fully vaccinated. Even as covid cases rise, though, a vaccine mandate is out of the question.

"If that becomes our differential advantage, we probably won't have one until we're forced to have one," Tobler said. "Maybe that's the thing that will keep nurses here."

As of Thursday, about 39% of U.S. hospitals had announced vaccine mandates, said Colin Milligan, a spokesperson for the American Hospital Association. Across Missouri and the nation, hospitals are weighing more than patient and caregiver health in deciding whether to mandate covid vaccines for staffers.

The market for health care labor, strained by more than a year and a half of coping with the pandemic, continues to be pinched. While urban hospitals with deeper pockets for shoring up staff have implemented vaccine mandates, and may even use them as a selling point to recruit staffers and patients, their rural and regional counterparts are left with hard choices as cases surge again.

"Obviously, it's going to be a real challenge for these small, rural hospitals to mandate a vaccine when they're already facing such significant workforce shortages," said Alan Morgan, head of the National Rural Health Association.

Without vaccine mandates, this could lead to a desperate cycle: Areas with fewer vaccinated residents likely have fewer vaccinated hospital workers,........

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