Large and private employers in Maine say they will continue to pay employees to vaccinate despite Thursday’s ruling by the US Supreme Court against the federal vaccination mandate for workers against COVID-19.
Some companies, including Wex and Bangor Savings Bank, are already requiring employees to be vaccinated and will continue to do so. Others said they were ready to meet the mandate requirements but would now regroup to discuss future policies while encouraging all employees to take their chances.
The governor’s office said Friday that Janet Mills will not impose a statewide mandate on employers in the private state of Maine.
The Supreme Court has blocked a federal vaccine mandate that requires employees at companies with 100 or more workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing. The conservative majority in the court concluded that the administration exceeded its authority by seeking to enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule, even though it allowed the vaccination requirement to run for health care facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.
More than 80 million people could have been affected, and OSHA estimated that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months. About 170,000 workers in Maine — nearly a third of the state’s workforce — work for private or nonprofit companies with 100 or more employees, according to state data.
Mills announced last year that health care workers in Maine should be vaccinated, but is not considering additional requirements for vaccines and is calling on “all people in leadership positions to join her in urging people to come forward and get vaccinated,” spokeswoman Lindsey Crete said. .
“COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and the governor is grateful that Maine is the third most vaccinated state in the country,” Crete added. “The governor is joining health care professionals across Maine in urging all eligible people in Maine to get vaccinated to protect their health and potentially save lives.”
Near or already there
The Jackson Laboratory, a Maine-based biomedical research organization, said the Supreme Court’s ruling did not affect its decision to impose a vaccination requirement on its employees.
Catherine Longley, the lab’s executive vice president and chief executive officer, said the lab maintains its own vaccination requirements and has provided on-site vaccinations and paid leave to obtain vaccinations.
She said the Jackson Laboratory is allowed to require its employees to receive the vaccination “as a condition of employment based on safety concerns in the workplace.”
Renee Smith, Camden National Bank’s executive vice president, said the bank’s pandemic task force has been meeting weekly since spring 2020 and has been closely monitoring Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements since they were announced last year. The staff has worked through many of the intricacies involved in meeting the requirements, including creating a system for employees to log their vaccination information with Human Resources and figuring out how to test unvaccinated employees.
“We were ready to implement it starting in February,” she said.
Smith said about 80 percent of the bank’s 610 employees have already been vaccinated, and that the company will continue to provide employees with paid leave and education in hopes that the number of vaccinated employees will continue to rise. She said the task force would also continue to monitor any local and state mandates that might be brought up.
The Supreme Court’s decision has no effect on Wex or Bangor Savings Bank. Both companies announced their vaccination requirements for employees ahead of the court’s decision.
At Wex, all office workers in the United States must be vaccinated, but the company maintains an emphasis on flexibility and choice in terms of returning to the office, a spokesman for Rob Gould said. Employees must be fully vaccinated to enter a Wex facility, travel to perform work-related activities, or meet in person with customers, partners, or vendors. Contractors and sellers must also be fully vaccinated to enter a Wex property.
Bangor Savings announced December 16 that it will require a full COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment for all employees, said Jacqueline Fish, director of community relations.
“Following the CDC’s guidelines and recommended practices provides us with the ability to safely and personally conduct our business, ensuring continuity of service and protecting the health and well-being of our communities,” Fish said. “Vaccines, boosters, social distancing, and concealment are measures available to all of us to help reduce the devastating toll and impact of this pandemic.”
Hospitals maintain the state
Thursday’s ruling left a federal requirement for a vaccine untouched for most health care workers, and it did well for two of the state’s largest health care institutions.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northern Light Health has consistently said that wearing a mask, washing hands, maintaining safe distances from others, and getting vaccinated are the best ways to protect our patients, our employees, and our community,” company spokeswoman Karen Cashman said. “Neither political debate nor legal debates changes our belief or direction.”
Cashman said 372 Northern Light workers — or about 3 percent of its workforce — left when the state mandated a vaccine for health care workers in the fall.
John Porter, associate vice president of system communications and public affairs, said MaineHealth was also pleased that the vaccine requirement for health care workers had been left in place by the Supreme Court.
“It is in the interest of the entire community that everyone who is eligible is vaccinated,” he said.
Porter said the vast majority of COVID-19 patients at MaineHealth hospitals are not immunized, and that nearly everyone in intensive care wards has not been vaccinated.
“Getting vaccinated is something everyone can do to relieve stress on the hospital system,” he said, and ordering health care workers to be vaccinated helps alleviate staffing shortages because vaccinated workers either do not contract the virus or have to quarantine due to a shorter period if He was arrested.
Porter said about 400 workers at MaineHealth have left instead of being vaccinated under the order issued by the state in the fall. As the state’s largest health care system, this represents less than 2 percent of the 22,000-strong workforce.
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