GREAT FALLS — Governor Greg Gianforte (R-MT) on Thursday published an open letter to Montana’s healthcare workers, urging any who are not yet vaccinated against COVID to "consider options" to remain in the workforce ahead of a federal vaccination mandate.
Under the federal COVID vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, employees at covered facilities are required to receive a vaccine dose or have a pending or approved application for exemption by Monday, February 14.
According to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as of early February, an estimated 82% of staff in facilities nationwide are vaccinated, but the remaining 18% face termination from their jobs if they do not apply and are granted a federally-recognized health or religious exemption. The number of vaccinated employees is much lower in several states, including Montana, Ohio, and Missouri, where the rate is estimated at less than 70%.
Gianforte opened the letter by thanking all Montana healthcare professionals for their work over the course of the pandemic: “Your efforts are nothing short of heroic, and we are fortunate to have such dependable, hardworking healthcare workers in our state.”
Addressing the vaccination mandate, he wrote: “I want you to know I’m wholeheartedly committed to defending Montanans against discrimination based on their vaccination status. Legal questions remain unresolved by the Supreme Court’s decision, and the State of Montana will continue to press its claims that the mandate is unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful in the district and appellate courts.”
Gianforte urged Montana’s healthcare workers to consider using religious and medical exemption processes that employers are required to offer, as well as talking with their colleagues or personal medical provider about getting vaccinated.
The Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services last month published a template form for unvaccinated employees who want to apply for a religious exemption.
A news release from Gianforte says that since then, his administration has heard from hospital systems across the state that thousands of healthcare workers have used the form to secure an exemption for a "sincerely held religious belief" and thereby remain in the workforce.
“As Montanans who have faced a longstanding shortage of healthcare professionals, we simply can’t afford to lose you, your colleagues, your experience, and your compassionate, dedicated care due to President Biden’s vaccine mandate,” he concluded.