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Some veterinary hospitals would fall under White House vaccine mandate

On Thursday, November 4, the Biden Administration announced a vaccine mandate that said any company with 100 or more employees must require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4, 2022, or implement weekly testing and require masks for unvaccinated workers.

On Saturday, a ruling by a federal appeals court temporarily put a halt to those plans.

The mandate, issued by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would apply to an estimated 84 million US workers, including many in the veterinary field.

Although most privately-owned veterinary practices don’t have enough employees to be affected by the ruling, many corporate-owned practices do, including dozens of AAHA-accredited hospitals owned by corporate groups such as Blue Pearl and Veterinary Clinics of America (VCA): The 100-or-more-employee threshold applies to the number of employees a business has company-wide across multiple locations.

AAHA-accredited practices owned by smaller regional practice groups are affected as well, like AAHA-accredited Coral Springs Animal Hospital in Coral Springs, Florida.

A 24-hour referral hospital, Coral Springs is owned by Encore Vet Group in Saratoga Springs, New York, which has around 2,000 employees at 51 practices—18 of which are either AAHA-accredited or pre-accredited.

Melissa Mauldin, CVPM, SHRM-SCP, manager of HR engagement at Encore, told NEWStat that despite the injunction, Encore is continuing to make plans behind the scenes for how to implement the mandate should the injunction be overturned.

“We’re letting our teams know that we’re aware of the looming mandate, and aware of the potential legal challenges,” she said. “But we’re not making any formal announcement on plans until we know for sure.”

Mauldin says Encore wants to be prepared for whatever happens, noting that if the injunction is lifted, employers don’t have a lot of time to get their ducks in a row: “You’ve got to have your plan in place by December 4, and implemented by January 4.”  

For other practice groups, the options aren’t as clear cut.

Kristy Greco, vice president of human resources at Rarebreed Veterinary Partners, which owns 47 practices, 12 of which are AAHA-accredited, told NEWStat that their business model puts them in a gray area in regards to the OSHA ruling.

When Rarebreed buys a practice, they don’t buy it outright, Greco said. They purchase a majority share in the business and partner with the sellers, who retain an ownership stake. That ownership model means it’s unclear whether or not Rarebreed hospitals are covered by the mandate, and their lawyers are currently reviewing the OSHA guidelines.

Meanwhile,  Rarebreed is working on the logistics of putting a plan in place in case the court ruling is overturned and the company’s legal team determines it applies to them: “Our plan is not to mandate vaccinations, but instead to have unvaccinated employees test weekly and wear masks indoors,” which is an option under the Biden administration’s mandate.

Greco said Rarebreed has 1,300 employees across their 47 practices. “We’re all for keeping our teams safe,” Greco added. But whatever happens, “We are not going to order people to be vaccinated.”

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