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Tennova, other East Tennessee hospitals to require employees get COVID-19 vaccine

The move comes after President Joe Biden invoked a blanket vaccination mandate.
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 3:58 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2021 at 3:53 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Officials with several East Tennessee hospital systems including Covenant Health, Blount Memorial Hospital, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Sweetwater Hospital Association, Tennova Healthcare and The University of Tennessee Medical Center have announced that they plan to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The move comes after President Joe Biden invoked a blanket vaccination mandate for businesses receiving any federal aid or working with federal employees and programs. Under the new order, medical staff that spend time in hospitals for any reason are required to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

A representative with Covenant Health released a joint statement with the other hospital systems on the decision. The hospitals participating in the Medicare program, which requires them to ensure employees are vaccinated, the statement said.

WVLT News obtained a letter to Covenant Health employees explaining the decision. According to the letter, Covenant Health Employees that do not comply with the rule will be placed on suspension until they can get proof of vaccination, the announcement said. Should Covenant Health not comply with the mandate, officials said, the hospital system would face “severe penalties,” like exclusion from the Medicare program.

The same penalties apply to other hospitals as well.

Tennova Healthcare also released a statement that said it stands firm in its commitment to maintaining a safe environment for patients and caregivers.

“We implemented routine COVID-19 testing of any unvaccinated hospital and clinic staff in early September to ensure the safety of our patients, colleagues and others,” the statement said.

The Tennova healthcare system sent a similar letter to employees on Nov. 17, letting them know they plan to comply with the vaccine mandate, citing the same reasons as the other hospital systems. Tennova’s letter also indirectly addressed recent legislation passed by Gov. Bill Lee.

Gov. Lee’s law prohibits some businesses and organizations from mandating vaccines for employees. Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, however, Biden’s order takes precedent, the letter said.

Many Tennessee leaders have been outspoken against the vaccine mandate, such as Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. However, health and business leaders have offered praise for the move, saying the ruling will motivate those who are vaccine-hesitant to get a shot.

A coalition of 10 states sued the federal government Wednesday over the mandate requiring medical workers to be vaccinated. Attorneys general from Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming were Joining the lawsuit.

The suit is similar to one joined by Tennessee’s attorney general, challenging an order mandating that all businesses with more than 100 employees follow similar COVID-19 vaccination rules.

The hospital systems will allow religious and medical exemptions for employees, however.

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