January 20, 2022 Update from State Director Kenneth Rogers, MD

Good afternoon SCDMH,

As you know, the CMS Mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers in organizations that receive Medicaid or Medicare funds, including SCDMH, is in effect, and the Agency will follow the law. As expected, CMS has issued updated guidelines:

Updated Deadlines

  • The deadline for employees to have received the first of a 2-dose series, authorized COVID-19 vaccine (such as Pfizer or Moderna) OR have a pending exemption request, is Monday, February 14, 2022.
  • The deadline for employees to have received a single-dose, authorized COVID-19 vaccine (such as Johnson & Johnson), OR have a pending exemption request is Monday, February 14, 2022.
  • The deadline for employees to have received the second of a 2-dose series, authorized COVID-19 vaccine OR have a pending exemption request is Tuesday, March 15, 2022.
  • To submit proof of vaccination, please contact your local Human Resources representative for specific guidance on what is needed. The Central Office contact who maintains this information for the Agency is Duane Brennan at (803) 898-8626.

Vaccine Locator

  • The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s website contains a vaccine locator to help you find a nearby vaccine location and schedule an appointment: https://vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov/.

Exemption Requests

  • Employees who wish to seek a medical or religious exemption should submit requests to Human Resource Services as soon as possible.
  • Exemption requests must be submitted to Human Resource Services by Friday, January 28, 2022, to ensure staff receive a final decision before the February 14th deadline.
  • The form for processing exemptions remain posted on the CMS COVID Vaccination Mandate Information for Employees page, located here: http://scdmhhome/cms-covid-vaccination-mandate-information-for-scdmh-staff.
  • NOTE: If you have already submitted an exemption request, you do NOT need to do so again.
  • If you have any questions about exemption requests, please send them to employee.relations@scdmh.org.

Next Steps

  • As a result of the updated CMS guidelines, SCDMH Directive 954-21, issued in late November, is in the process of being updated to reflect the changes and will be reissued upon completion.

As with all other Mandate updates, this message will be posted on the Employee Mandate Update page, referenced above.

Thank you all for your patience as we continue to navigate this situation. Please direct questions related to SCDMH and the CMS Vaccine Mandate to: employee.relations@scdmh.org.

Kenneth Rogers, MD

SCDMH State Director

 

January 14, 2022 Update from State Director Kenneth Rogers, MD

Good afternoon SCDMH,

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and OSHA Vaccine Mandates Friday, January 7. Late yesterday, January 13, the Court issued its opinions regarding both.

As you know, the CMS Mandate requires COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers in organizations that receive Medicaid or Medicare funds, including SCDMH.

The U.S. Supreme Court lifted the injunction that had temporarily prevented enforcement of this Mandate in South Carolina and several other states.

This morning, SCDMH leadership consulted with Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office. The Attorney General has confirmed that the vaccine mandate is effective and must be followed. Attorney General Wilson has issued a statement about the Supreme Court’s decisions, which is posted here: Supreme Court rules on vaccine mandates for large businesses and healthcare workers - South Carolina Attorney General (scag.gov).

We expect CMS will soon issue updated guidelines for healthcare providers (including SCDMH) in states where the Mandate was previously blocked. Leadership will meet to review these guidelines and update staff as soon as possible about our Agency’s next steps.

Employees who wish to seek a medical or religious exemption should submit requests to Human Resource Services as soon as possible. The form and HR e-mail address for processing exemptions remain posted on the CMS COVID Vaccination Mandate Information for Employees page, located here: http://scdmhhome/cms-covid-vaccination-mandate-information-for-scdmh-staff. NOTE: If you have already submitted an exemption request, you do NOT need to do so again.

As with all other Mandate updates, this message will be posted on Employee Mandate Update page, referenced above.

Thank you all for your patience as we continue to navigate this situation. I will keep you informed of all further developments and decisions, but the bottom line is that, as always, SCDMH will follow the law.

Kenneth Rogers, MD

SCDMH State Director

 

December 6, 2021 Statement from SCDMH Leadership

SCDMH currently operates 3 hospitals, 4 nursing homes and 16 comprehensive community mental health centers, with clinics and outreach services covering all 46 counties. In terms of number of licensed beds, and the number of patients and residents treated annually, the Department is one of the largest healthcare systems in the State of South Carolina and the South Carolina’s only statewide health system.

As everyone knows, healthcare is a heavily regulated profession. Like all healthcare providers who accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for its services, SCDMH is subject to regulations issued by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

CMS published regulations on November 5th requiring all covered providers – including SCDMH – to ensure that all of its employees and contract staff were fully vaccinated with an authorized COVID-19 vaccine by December 5, 2021, or were in the process of becoming fully vaccinated by that date.

In response, and in common with all other healthcare organizations subject to the CMS regulations, SCDMH notified its employees and contractors of the new mandate, and advised that SCDMH would be requiring those who were not already fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus to become fully vaccinated in accordance with the regulations unless they had an approved medical or religious exemption. In preparation for complying with the CMS requirements, the Department also began asking its employees and contract staff to provide written proof of vaccination to its agency human resources staff, or to submit a request for a medical or religious exemption before the December 5th deadline.

Last week a federal court in Louisiana issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the CMS mandate while a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the regulations proceeded. In response, the federal government has both appealed the temporary injunction to a higher court, but has also notified providers that it has suspended the regulations pending a final decision by the courts.

The December 5th deadline by which SCDMH employees had to be fully vaccinated or received at least the first dose of one of the authorized two-dose vaccines was based on the CMS requirement, which has now been temporarily halted. Therefore, while the lawsuits will continue, and while it’s possible that a CMS vaccine mandate will at some point be reinstated by a higher court, for the time being there is no SCDMH deadline or requirement for its staff to receive an authorized COVID-19 vaccine.

Since FDA authorized COVID-19 vaccines first became widely available, the Agency has consistently encouraged staff to become vaccinated and will continue to do so The authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and the best of the tools available to prevent the spread of the virus. Protecting our staff, our patients, our residents, and their families is of the highest importance to SCDMH Leadership.