Meeting to protest Sidney Health Center vaccine mandate compliance to be held Monday

The event will focus on pushing back on the recently announced vaccine mandate

By: - November 24, 2021 4:14 pm

The Montana state capitol building in Helena. The statue in front of the capitol is Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irish revolutionary hero and the second territorial governor of the state. (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan)

The Montana Daily Gazette and the political group Conservatives United for Richland County have had a hand in organizing and promoting a private event on Monday that will focus on teaching Sidney Health Center employees how to challenge the hospital’s decision to comply with a federal vaccine mandate necessary to keep Medicaid and Medicare funding.

The event came to life after Sidney Health Center chief executive Jennifer Doty told the Sidney Herald the hospital will be complying with a new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services mandate that requires hospital employees that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding to be vaccinated. Employees who do not comply or are not found to be exempt will lose their jobs, according to the Sidney Herald.

“Because of Jen Doty’s unfactual puff piece in the Sidney Herald on forced vaccinations, Conservatives for Richland County is coordinating with Montana Daily Gazette for a PRIVATE venue for all SHC employees to speak to/learn directly from the attorneys, legislators, and state officials who will help you decide what to do next. Followed by interactive Q&A,” reads a Facebook post from the Montana Daily Gazette.

According to the post promoting the event, “all the big statewide hitters will be present,” including attorneys specializing in mandates, legislators, medical professionals, strategists and grassroots organizers.

When reached by phone,  Jordan Hall would not provide the names of any speakers but said he met a lot of them last week on the “God, Country, Family” tour in western Montana. The tour recently made headlines after Hamilton Sen. Theresa Manzella made comments suggesting fear and discrimination felt in the LGBTQ community was a consequence of their life choices.

Hall is the pastor at Fellowship Baptist Church, where the event is being held and is the president of Conservatives United for Richland County as well as the founder of the Montana Daily Gazette — a conservative media outlet that pushes anti-vaccination material.

According to the Sidney Herald, 30 Sidney Health Center employees showed up at the hospital’s annual meeting last week to voice opposition about the decision to follow the federal mandate. Hall said SHC employees have since taken the reins to organize the event next week.

But in a letter posted to the Conservatives United for Richland County Facebook page, a representative for the hospital said the meeting is not affiliated with the Sidney Health Center, which employs more than 500 people, and requested the groups stop using the hospital logo to promote the event. The Sidney Health Center did not respond to multiple voicemails left by the Daily Montanan.

In response to the hospital’s letter, Hall wrote, “we’ll alter the image as to avoid any copyright claim. But trust me, you won’t like the alteration.”

Hall told the Daily Montanan he has no sympathy for hospitals in Montana that are lodged between state law barring discrimination based on vaccine status and the federal CMS mandate, arguing, “State law is not superseded by a [federal] mandate.”

But according to CMS, “under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, this regulation pre-empts any state law to the contrary.”

Anthony Johnstone, a professor at the University of Montana’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law, said because the rule is tied to federal money, the federal mandate most likely does pre-empt state law.

“The power the federal government is exercising here is the power of the purse,” he said. “The federal rule follows the federal money, so if you want the federal money, you follow the federal rule.”

The Montana Hospital Association has estimated that failing to comply with the new CMS rule would put $2.1 billion in health care dollars in the state at risk.

Doty told the Herald the hospital’s financial livelihood was dependent on federal funding: “… For us to be able to continue to keep our doors open and serve the community and also be an employer to over 500 people, the decision was made that we have to comply with the conditions of participation.”

A spokesperson from the Montana Hospital Association said she was not aware of any hospital in the state not complying with the CMS mandate.

“Montana hospitals and healthcare providers are in the difficult position of complying with conflicting state and federal laws, both of which have significantly hindered the ability of local healthcare providers to tailor vaccination policies to best serve their local communities,” said Rich Rasmussen, president and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association, in a statement.

More than 524,000 Montanans rely on Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program for healthcare, and failure to comply with the new CMS mandate could jeopardize hospitals’ ability to provide them care, the association said. The association also said CMS reimbursements account for approximately 67% of payments to Montana hospitals.

“There’s not a hospital in Montana that could survive if it didn’t follow those directives, and the impact would be felt community-wide. Local hospitals are either the largest or one of the largest employers in their communities, and their demand for goods and services creates a significant number of jobs outside the hospital facility. CMS certification is not only critical to the health of Montana residents, it’s critical to the health of our local economies,” Rasmussen said.

About two-thirds of the staff at SHC is currently vaccinated, and according to the Herald, the hospital had 621 people — staff members, contract workers and volunteers — that needed to be reported as of the most recent count. Of the 621, about 384 are vaccinated, while the rest are pending or have filled out the medical or religious exemption form, according to the Herald.

Doty told the Sidney Herald that among hospital employees, the vaccination rates are as follows:

  • 62 percent of nurses
  • 93 percent of medical staff, i.e., physicians, etc.
  • 88 percent of pharmacy staff
  • 100 percent of emergency room physicians
  • 80 percent of nurses working in emergency services

While the event is geared toward Sidney Health Center employees, citizens who are not employees and the press can gain access by requesting an exemption for themselves as to why they should be allowed to attend. The Montana Daily Gazette and RoundUp are the only press to have been invited so far, according to the Montana Daily Gazette. The Sidney Herald said it was denied access.

“We are worried about retaliation, a hostile work environment, bullying, and harassment, and therefore the meeting is private for a reason,” Hall said.

The same stipulations apply to members of the Sidney Health Center Executive Board, according to the Montana Daily Gazette: “Humorously, the SHC executive board may attend only if they write out an exemption form for why they should be allowed to peacefully assemble with the group, no doubt an ironic statement about SHC’s requirement that workers provide religious exemptions (both are covered under the same amendment in the U.S. Constitution). Those exemptions will be approved or denied at the door of the venue by an ad-hoc committee of SHC employees.”

All employees who attend Hall’s meeting will be kept confidential, according to the Facebook post. The Facebook post for the event says it is not a religious meeting, but Hall’s church was instead chosen due to its close location to Sidney Health Center and its Audio/Video equipment.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .