'Odds are stacked against our industry': Vaccination mandate worries some ASC leaders

Many ASC administrators are concerned about magnified staffing strains after a CMS emergency regulation issued this month requires staff at healthcare facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

ASCs already are facing a shortage of nurses, scrub technicians and sterile processing technicians, and the mandate could exacerbate these issues, Andrew Lovewell, administrator of the Surgical Center at Columbia (Mo.) Orthopaedic Group told Becker's.

"With huge sign-on bonuses, travel rates at an all-time high and clinical staff leaving the medical field altogether, we are looking at a potentially very bleak future with staffing at ASCs and all healthcare facilities," Mr. Lovewell said. 

Melinda Smith, administrator of Advanced Surgery Center in Creve Coeur, Mo., said she doesn't expect any staffing shortages at her center, but noted "a significant number of scrub technicians left large hospitals to come to ASCs" after hospitals and health systems issued their own mandates. 

With the new federal mandate including ASCs, some administrators are facing the possibility of unvaccinated staff leaving their centers. 

Georgia Kapshuck, administrator of Carolina Bone & Joint Surgery Center in Myrtle Beach, S.C., told Becker's she stands to lose seven employees from the mandate, including herself.

"The additional cost and training puts a financial burden on the center," she said, "with more and more nurses turning to traveling for higher wages, driving the cost up for permanent staff and better benefits to bring staff in."

Some facilities are facing similar challenges, as well as pressure from patients. 

Endo Surgi Center in Union, N.J., expects two long-term employees to quit, and patients have been requesting that only vaccinated staff attend to them, according to administrator Sharon DeMato.

Other ASCs expect no issue with the mandate.

Marie Hennigar, administrative director of Valley Pain Center in Merion Station, Pa., told Becker's that the mandate will not affect her center. 

"All staff were vaccinated as soon as it became available for us," she said. "We are fortunate that we had no issues with the vaccine, and we are grateful for this for our center."

Andrea Breeze RN, surgery center manager at Liberty (Mo.) Hospital, also told Becker's that the mandate will not affect her center since employees are 100 percent vaccinated. 

In September, Jason Richardson, CEO of Gastroenterology of the Rockies in Louisville, Colo., told Becker's that he expects a mandate to have less of an effect on ASCs than hospitals. 

"At the end of the day, I'd prefer that health-related personnel do get the vaccine and embrace their responsibility to do what they can to keep our patients, communities and co-workers as safe as possible," he said. "The vaccine is just one important component to controlling the pandemic."

Come Jan. 4, many administrators expect this to be yet another roadblock for ASCs to thrive. 

"In our opinion, it is a catastrophic move," Eduardo Tolentino, administrator of the Outpatient Surgery Center of Central Florida in Wildwood, told Becker's. "When you combine the stress created by the federal mandate and the impact of proposed 2022 CPTs going away at the ASC level, it certainly feels like odds are stacked against our industry."

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