It has been clear for some time that the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine mandates for employers are poorly planned and badly executed, but in the case of medical care in rural communities, it could be disastrous.

Lake Havasu City’s shortage of doctors and medical workers far predates the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve known for years that rural communities like Lake Havasu City struggle to attract and keep doctors, nurses and medical support staff. These are communities where access to good medical care is already limited compared to urban areas.

The early days of the coronavirus pandemic saw heightened concern about Mohave County’s vulnerability to the disease, mainly because of the region’s higher average age. It was the federal government, via the Centers for Disease Control, that brought attention to the fact that Mohave County was one of four counties in the country with a population greater than 100,000 and an average age over 60.

It’s interesting, then, that the federal government’s own actions — or rather, its poorly timed reactions -- that could put communities like Havasu and Mohave County into a full-blown health care crisis.

For the past two weekends, dozens of hospital employees have picketed outside Havasu Regional Medical Center over the hospital’s plans to require coronavirus vaccinations of its staff. The hospital, of course, isn’t left with much of a choice. Requirements by two federal agencies obligate the hospital to require the vaccinations. Those who won’t comply won’t have a job for long -- they need an exemption by Dec. 6 -- unless the courts intervene.

Last week, HRMC administrators told the News-Herald that about half of its 700 employees were fully vaccinated. For the other half, a deadline looms. It’s likely that many of the employees will ultimately choose vaccination, but even a small number of hospital employees losing their jobs could be a big deal in a city with such limited medical options for its residents.

Even more concerning, the state and federal governments have no backup plans to help communities where medical care could be affected by resistance to the mandates.

The Biden administration must deal with the vaccine mandates by extending the deadline now or offer rural communities immediate assistance in filling the looming employment gap they’ve helped cause.

— Today’s News-Herald

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