St. John's Health Sign 3 (copy)

In order to keep its Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services funding, St. John’s Health will require all health care workers to get their first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 5. Hospital leaders say the measure will keep staff and patients safe.

St. John’s Health CEO David Robertson in a Wednesday email to hospital staff expressed gratitude for their service and urged them not to leave St. John’s Health because of the recently approved federal vaccine mandate.

Roughly 17% of St. John’s staff of about 830 are unvaccinated.

“It is my sincere desire for us to NOT see anyone leave our St. John’s team as a result of this nationally mandated program. Our community is counting on us,” the CEO wrote.

Robertson also expressed support for the lifesaving pandemic precaution.

“As you all know, I am personally very strongly committed to the value and efficacy of vaccines,” he wrote. “Without question, for employee safety and the safety of co-workers and patients, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is the recommended course of action.”

Finalized rules from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services require health care workers nationwide to receive their first vaccine dose by Dec. 5 and complete the series by Jan. 4. Booster doses are not currently required for people to be considered fully vaccinated.

There are select medical and religious exemptions, but unlike the mandated program for employers with more than 100 employees, there is no test-out option for health care workers.

Staff who are not fully vaccinated or granted an exemption by Jan. 4 cannot continue to work for St. John’s.

The federal mandate applies to all health care organizations nationwide that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs. Noncompliance could result in St. John’s being excluded from those programs, “which would essentially result in the closure of St. John’s,” Robertson wrote.

President Biden’s plans to require vaccinations for millions of people have been met with staunch opposition from conservative leaders. Wyoming is part of a 10-state coalition that filed lawsuits combating vaccine mandates for federal contractors and large employers. And on Wednesday the coalition filed a third lawsuit challenging the health care mandate.

The states argued that workers would quit the health care industry because of the requirement, exacerbating an existing staffing shortage.

Leaders in Jackson share that concern, knowing how difficult it would be to hire replacements at the valley’s only hospital.

But vaccines can also alleviate staffing shortages.

Throughout the delta surge, unvaccinated and vaccinated staff members with breakthrough infections have missed work at St. John’s due to mandatory quarantines after testing positive for COVID-19. Others have had to quarantine because of exposures.

With everyone vaccinated, the number of quarantines should diminish. Current St. John’s policy requires unvaccinated employees to quarantine after a first-degree exposure or traveling to high-risk areas.

Quarantine and/or testing may be required for unvaccinated employees who have participated in unmasked gatherings of more than 20 people.

In addition to hospital employees, the new rules require vaccinations for licensed practitioners, students, trainees, board members, and volunteers who come into contact with St. John’s staff. The requirement also extends to contracted workers who deal closely with patients, people who work off-site, such as those who care for patients in their homes, and non-employed physicians who have admitting privileges at St. John’s.

The only exceptions are people who work 100% remotely and those who do not ever have any direct contact with patients or other staff.

The hospital is again paying staffers $600 as an incentive to get the jab.

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

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(1) comment

Judd Grossman

Vax seems too experimental to mandate. Recommend, yes. Mandate, no.

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