On March 15, 2023, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll announced that the state’s COVID-19 public health emergency would end on May 11, 2023, in conjunction with the federal government’s end date for the public health emergency. As part of this announcement, Governor Healey also announced that she will be (i) proposing new legislation that allows for further flexibility in health care settings, and (ii) rescinding Executive Order 595 which required state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Governor Healey proposed legislation that will keep in place some of the health care flexibilities that were beneficial to employees and patients during the public health emergency. The proposed legislation would:
- Grant out-of-hospital dialysis centers an additional 6 months to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels following the April 28, 2020 waiver from the Commission of Public Health that suspended the state’s staffing requirements for dialysis units;
- Expand who can provide pre-packaged medication in community settings for the next six months while the Department of Public Health finalizes its training for non-MAP (Medication Administration Program) staff; and
- Allow for Advanced Life Support ambulances to have one EMT and one first responder driver, instead of requiring two EMTs.
These proposed changes seem aimed at easing some of the pressures on health care entities that are facing employment shortages in Massachusetts. The Healey-Driscoll administration is attempting to limit the impact of the shortages.
Rescinding of Executive Order 595
In August 2021, Massachusetts’ then-Governor Charlie Baker signed Executive Order 595, which required the approximately 42,000 Massachusetts state workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 17, 2021 or risk losing their jobs. Executive Order 595 requires state employees of all levels, including full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary employees, as well as interns, to receive the initial two-part series of the COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, contracted state workers also have to be vaccinated under the order. At the time in 2021, the Executive Order was one of the strictest in the nation. Employees were allowed to seek religious or medical exemptions, but according to the Baker administration, about 1,000 employees were fired or resigned due to the vaccine mandate.
When Executive Order 595 ends on May 11, so will the vaccine requirement for state employees. Three years after the onset of the pandemic, the state, and much of the world, is shifting towards treating COVID-19 less like a pandemic and more like a respiratory illness. During its duration, Executive Order 595 bumped state employee vaccination rates from 76 percent to 99 percent. According to the Healey-Driscoll administration, the COVID-19 mandate will remain in place for some public workers in specific roles and settings to comply with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) regulations.