Riley County commissioners on Monday voted to not require Riley County Health Department and EMS employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination after officials determined they likely aren’t covered under a federal mandate.
County counselor Clancy Holeman presented an option to commissioners during their meeting Monday morning to either move forward or not with any kind of policy that would require employees of those agencies to get vaccinated.
The notion of a policy comes after a federal guideline released Nov. 5 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that requires vaccination of all employees and staff of 21 different types of facilities. The facilities in question all provide public healthcare and treatment services, but Holeman said the legal discussion stems around whether the local health department and EMS are actually part of that list.
Holeman said he “plowed through” the 21 definitions in the 73-page document, but he could not determine specifically if the health department and EMS are covered by the federal rule.
“There’s nothing in there that convinces me to believe they are absolutely covered,” Holeman said.
County EMS director David Adams said he spoke to neighboring counties about their interpretations of the rule. He said most counties he spoke to agree their health and EMS services are not explicitly covered.
Riley County Health Department director Julie Gibbs said the few health department officials she’s spoken to around the state said they are not covered by the federal rule and have not yet decided how to proceed. Adams added that everybody is taking “a wait-and-see approach” with the vaccine rule.
County commission chair John Ford did not support the measure and said it was “complete federal overreach.” He made a motion to not move forward with any type of policy requiring vaccinations for health department and EMS employees. Commissioner Greg McHenry seconded the motion and said he also did not see where those entities are specifically listed. The motion passed 2-1 with commissioner Kathryn Focke opposed.
Focke said she would’ve preferred to have more information on which entities are specifically listed and defined, but she felt it was a good idea that medical personnel in the community be vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the deadline for employees to receive their first vaccine dose (of a multi-dose series) would be Dec. 6. Full compliance would be required Jan. 4. Employees could seek religious or medical exemptions, but there is no test-out option.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration previously issued a federal vaccine mandate for entities with more than 100 employees, but Holeman said that mandate is currently in legal limbo.
The concern among Holeman and other county officials is the penalties for not following the guidelines, including potentially losing federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.
In August, county commissioners approved offering incentives to county employees to get vaccinated. Of the 591 employees on the payroll in Riley County, officials Monday said 241 of those people are fully vaccinated.
Gibbs said “all but one” of the health department’s 44 employees were vaccinated as of a couple of weeks ago.
Adams said Riley County EMS employs about 45 people. During the meeting, county human relations manager Elizabeth Ward said 11 EMS employees were not vaccinated as of two weeks ago. She said that figure included six new employees who were hired after the October deadline for voluntary vaccine reporting, and she is unsure of their vaccination status.