LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The leadership at UAMS has issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees, citing new federal regulations. That move has Arkansas lawmakers saying the hospital is violating state law and threatening to withhold funding.
Act 977 passed in the Regular Session earlier in the year and it prohibits entities of the state from enacting vaccine mandates.
In that letter, UAMS Chancellor, Cam Patterson, said the hospital could lose Medicare and Medicaid funding but State Sen. Bob Ballinger believes UAMS is being premature with the implementation of a mandate.
“Nobody wants them to go without Medicare funding, we all would agree that that situation needs to get worked out but at this point, there are lawsuits that are in the works that are going to be stayed, they need to sit and wait, comply with state law until we find out what’s going on,” Ballinger said.
Patterson said UAMS has no way of actually knowing if any lawsuits will result in injunctions.
“In the meantime, we have been given a very short timeline by CMS. We can’t wait and have to go ahead and act to meet those deadlines or we risk losing funding,” Dr. Patterson explained.
State Sen. Trent Garner believes the withholding of federal funds is just an idle threat made by the federal government.
“That’s an idle threat by Joe Biden, he knows his mandates are unconstitutional, this is a political ploy and unlike him, which is an executive order which is unlikely to survive in court, ours is a state law,” Garner said.
Ballinger said the discussion of state funding for UAMS could be more in-depth in the upcoming Fiscal Session.
“You don’t want to abide by state law, then you don’t get state funding. It’s a simple solution, it takes 3/4ths vote to pass an appropriation, they shouldn’t expect to get any appropriations if they’re not going to abide by the laws,” Ballinger said.
Garner had a different approach to possible UAMS appropriations.
“I might increase their funding, assuming they make some changes in leadership and put in following the state law, doing the right thing that’s needed and doing what that organization’s mission is,” Garner explained.
Patterson responded to the possibility of the state cutting funding by saying, “We greatly appreciate our legislators and their support of UAMS. This decision was not made lightly. Our goal is to continue to care for the people of Arkansas, in all 75 counties, whether it be a stroke, cancer diagnosis, heart attack or birth of a child. Many Arkansans rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their healthcare. We want those Arkansans to have the means to be treated at UAMS.”
Patterson said the $600 million is nearly 60% of their total funding and would impact patient care, education, and research. He also said there could be thousands of jobs lost and the resounding effects would be devastating for the state.
Employees have until January 4 to be fully vaccinated or risk being terminated. UAMS said it is offering employees the option of a medical or religious exemption and are providing information to all of their unvaccinated employees to encourage them to get the vaccine.