As we all know, sometimes you just have to rip off the bandage. That’s what it felt like Thursday when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released the twin behemoth rules on the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Among the biggest news in the rules: Employees of home care agencies that receive Medicare or Medicaid — and in businesses employing more than 100 people — must receive COVID-19 vaccinations by Jan. 4.

After quite a bit of hand-wringing and furrowed brows in anticipation of the mandate, I’ll hazard a guess there is a certain measure of relief. Now, at least, home care organizations can confront the so-called devil they know.

The truth is everyone had a general idea what these rules would entail. Most encouraging is that some major home care companies, which have the power to influence their employees better than any federal edicts, are on board with the mandates.  

Keith Myers, chairman and CEO of LHC Group, one of the “big 3” in home health, applauded the CMS regulation during an earnings call with analysts Thursday morning. The rule “evens the playing field” for all home healthcare agencies, he said.

Earlier this week, Dirk Allison, the chairman and CEO of Addus HomeCare, talked about the company’s initiatives to beef up vaccination rates. These include a stipend for getting vaccinated, ongoing communication around the theme of “be a hero” and a program that provides prize opportunities, according to Allison.

Various state and city mandates in effect “make it imperative we get as many of our employees as vaccinated as possible,” he said.

In fact, a sign of how far the community has come on the issue was apparent Thursday when the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, which, for a long time was mum on mandates, released a statement about the new rule.

“We have long supported COVID-19 vaccination of home care staff as a public health responsibility,” said Bill Dombi, president of NAHC.

“The rules issued today represent the difficult and complex outcome of efforts to address an extended pandemic that has taken many lives in this country, including those on the frontlines of caring for COVID- infected patients in their homes,” he continued.

Of course, unanswered questions remain. What to do if large numbers of employees flout the rule? What if there’s a legal backlash?  

And how will those agencies not receiving Medicare and Medicaid approach the mandate? Dombi raised this important point in his message.

“We remain concerned that the rules divide home care providers into two categories, those subject to the mandate and those that are not because of size or relationship to Medicare and Medicaid,” he said. “This may lead to staff separations and some access to care limitations.”

No doubt the mandate will continue to raise questions and provoke concerns. Still, it’s here. Let’s make the best of it.

Liza Berger is editor of McKnight’s Home Care. Email her at [email protected]. Follow her @LizaBerger19.