Governor Ducey Gives Hospitals Vaccine Mandate Power and $35.2 Million

Governor Ducey Gives Hospitals Vaccine Mandate Power and $35.2 Million

By Corinne Murdock |

Governor Doug Ducey carved out an exemption for hospitals in his renewed executive order addressing COVID-19 vaccine mandates (EO 2021-21), though it banned the state and all counties, cities, and towns from implementing any. Additionally, Ducey issued hospitals $35.2 million in grants to aid in staffing shortages. The $35.2 million meted out to $1.2 million in dialysis center support to Valleywise Health, $6 million for more beds, and $28 million to extend around 300 nursing staff contracts.

According to campaign finance records, Arizona’s hospitals did greatly support Ducey during both of his gubernatorial campaigns: Tenet Healthcare, West Valley Hospital, Carondelet Health, Honor Health, Maricopa Integrated Health System (now Valleywise Health), Banner Health, Dignity Health, and Yuma Regional Medical Center.

Health insurance giants also supported Ducey during his two campaigns: UnitedHealth, WellCare Health Plans, Cigna, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Makers and distributors of the COVID-19 vaccine had Ducey’s back as well: Pfizer and McKesson donated thousands to Ducey’s campaigns respectively. McKesson is a major distributor of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Ducey’s special advisor on vaccination efforts, Dr. Richard Carmona, was one of the latest additions to the distributor’s board. Carmona was appointed to the board about two weeks after Ducey announced him as an advisor to the state. 

12 News reported Carmona receives approximately $400 an hour from the state to promote the vaccine through Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS). For about two collective weeks of work, Carmona has earned over $35,000. ADHS spokespersons confirmed that Carmon will remain in his advisory role past the December 31 contract end date — possibly through 2022. 

The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AHA) thanked Ducey for this decision to reaffirm their mandating abilities. The AHA and its former president supported Ducey during both his runs for governor with thousands in donations. 

The funds follow $60 million allocated in September to aid in health care facility staffing for administering treatments to decrease COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

Arizona, like many other states, is facing a nursing shortage; their number determines the number of beds available for patients. Earlier this month, ADHS asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for staff who can aid in monoclonal antibody treatments at Banner Health, Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital, Banner Health Plus, Banner Estrella Medical Center, Valleywise Health Medical Center, Dignity Health Arizona General Hospital, and Abrazo Central Campus, as well as emergency support at Yuma Regional Medical Center and Canyon Vista Medical Center. 

ADHS confirmed the first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 last week in Yavapai County.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Pollack Cinemas Comes Back Strong After Pandemic Shutdown

Pollack Cinemas Comes Back Strong After Pandemic Shutdown

By Terri Jo Neff |

Many Arizona small businesses were forced to shutter under Gov. Doug Ducey’s various pandemic executive orders, never to reopen. But after Michael Pollack learned his six-screen Pollack Cinemas in Tempe had to close in March 2020, he decided to use the time to renovate the business, which finally had its long anticipated reopening last week.

Pollack has achieved great success as a commercial and industrial real estate investor in Arizona, California, and Nevada. But he told AZ Free News that owning Pollack Cinemas “is more of a labor of love.”

Before Arizonans heard of COVID-19, the projectors at Pollack Cinemas had been running seven days and nights a week for several years. But indoor movie theaters and other “non-essential” businesses were suddenly closed down for several months. What could have been a curse became an opportunity, says Pollack, who was on hand Dec. 10 when the projectors were turned back on and movie-goers ponied up $3.50 for a ticket, the same price as the last decade

Yet despite the modernization, Pollack insists the discount theater’s motto remains the same – that quality is never compromised for price.

“Our mission has always been to provide our customers with a unique experience that starts at the front door.,” Pollack said. “At the heart of our theater is our vision to bring families together for a movie at a price everyone can afford.”

During the closure, Pollack and his wife Cheryl oversaw renovations that involved every aspect of their business located at McClintock Drive and Elliot Road. Many of the changes, such as touchless fixtures throughout the restrooms and 1,300 all new seats with an easier-to-sanitize leatherlike covering, were influenced by COVID-19.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to be as safe as possible,” Pollack said.

There are also new ceilings throughout the six theaters as well as new flooring and new contemporary lighting. But other upgrades, including an upgraded sound system, a redesigned concession stand, and 16 holograms located throughout the lobby, were about providing a high quality experience for audiences.  

“The truth is it was a complete makeover,” Pollack says, one that would not have had as good of an outcome without the efforts of several Arizona contractors, including Shamrock Electric and Merestone Event Production. “Everything has been extremely well received.”

According to the Independent Cinema Alliance, its segment of the movie industry was responsible for $3 billion in annual sales pre-pandemic. That represented nearly 20 percent of the North American box office.

For now, Pollack Cinemas will show movies Friday through Sunday, with the family-friendly “Elf” returning for its annual holiday run. The other days are set aside for the six theaters to be rented out for meetings and special events, including one theater which seats nearly 290 people and can be easily transformed to host small concerts.

Pollack isn’t expecting to have sell-out audiences anytime soon. He understands it will take time to get movie-goers back into the habit of going out again.

“There are loyal movie-goers out there,” Pollack says, adding that he hopes to draw in new guests, particularly those only used to watching movies on little screens. “Pollack Cinemas has always offered a very cool, unique experience. No matter how big your home screen is, it’s not the same experience as you get at a movie theater. I look forward to sharing it with as many people as we can.”

On Dec. 17, there will be a special early screening of the biopic “American Underdog” about former Arizona Cardinal quarterback Kurt Warner. It will be joined by several other movies, including Guillermo del Toro’s highly anticipated suspense / thriller “Nightmare Alley” with its all-star of Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, David Strathairn, Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Ron Perlman, and Mary Steenburgen.

Pollack says he expects to offer online ticket purchasing later this month as well as reserved seating. More information about Pollack Cinemas and showtimes are available at  https://www.pollacktempecinemas.com

Maricopa Community Colleges Suspend Vaccine Mandate

Maricopa Community Colleges Suspend Vaccine Mandate

By Corinne Murdock |

In the wake of multiple federal court rulings striking down all provisions of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates, Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) has suspended their vaccine mandate for employees. A number of colleges and universities followed Biden’s executive order requiring federal contractors to get vaccinated. 

MCCCD notified employees that it would hold onto the policy detailing their now-suspended mandate on their website, indicating that they would await further ruling on the subject. For the time being, their January 7 deadline is no longer in effect.

“Given the rapidly changing landscape, if an employee would like to voluntarily provide your vaccine information or continue with the accommodation process you may certainly do so,” wrote MCCCD. “MCCCD will leave the Federal Vaccine Mandate submission structure (including this website) in place and will continue to monitor the situation.”

All three of Arizona’s public universities — Arizona State University (ASU), Northern Arizona University (NAU), and University of Arizona (UArizona) — also have employee vaccination mandates in place. UArizona and NAU told AZ Free News that they were reviewing the court ruling and its potential impact, and indicated that ASU was as well. 

“At this time, we continue to strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated and verify their vaccination status,” said UArizona spokeswoman Holly Jensen.

Pima Community College also has a vaccine mandate; spokeswoman Libby Howell told Arizona Republic that they were keeping their mandate in place despite the ruling, but noted that their governing board may decide to vote to suspend it next week. 

The federal contractor vaccine mandate was suspended nationwide on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker, a Trump appointee to Georgia’s southern district court, in the State of Georgia, et al., v. Biden, et al. 

Baker’s opinion concurred with those issued by judges in separate rulings on other mandates prompted by Biden: that the president’s exercise of power didn’t align with the Constitution or other legal precedents. Baker also cited the ruling of another federal judge in Kentucky, Gregory Van Tatenhove, a Bush appointee, who previously suspended the same order in several states: Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.

“As another Court that has preliminarily enjoined the same measure at issue in this case has stated, ‘[t]his case is not about whether vaccines are effective. They are.’ […] Moreover, the Court acknowledges the tragic toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought throughout the nation and the globe,” wrote Baker. “However, even in times of crisis this Court must preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of their constitutionally granted authorities. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that, while the public indisputably ‘has a strong interest in combating the spread of [COVID-19],’ that interest does not permit the government to “act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.” 

The reason that Baker applied his ruling nationally — as opposed to a limited application like Tatenhove’s Kentucky v. Biden ruling — was because the intervening plaintiff, Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC), is a national company. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Congress Approved Early End To Major Small Business Tax Credit Without Notice

Congress Approved Early End To Major Small Business Tax Credit Without Notice

By Terri Jo Neff |

As if small business owners haven’t had enough to deal with, now comes word that Congress pulled the rug out from under a major COVID-19 relief program that was supposed to run through the end of 2021.

Instead, many business owners are left scrambling to adjust their business plan with just three weeks left in the year.

The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) program was approved by Congress in 2020 to allow many small business owners to offset much of the cost of payroll taxes for those employees who were retained despite the pandemic. The program was to run through Jan. 1, 2022, allowing employers to claim credits of up to $7,000 per employee per quarter for all four quarters this year.

But that abruptly changed when President Joe Biden recently signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

According to the White House-supported legislation, the ERTC program came to a halt as of Sept. 30. That retroactive end means business owners who developed their budget based on claiming the credits Congress previously approved for the fourth-quarter will have a rude awakening at tax time.

Restaurants, retail, and professional services businesses are among the industries expected to be hardest hit by ERTC’s early termination, which was not previously publicized by the Biden Administration.  It has fallen on business and trade associations to get the word out after the fact, but it is feared the message will be too late for many small businesses.

The National Federal of Independent Businesses is encouraging impacted business owners to notify their U.S. Representatives and Senators in hopes Congress will address the problem by restoring the original end date.

Information about the ERTC, including employer eligibility and claiming the credits, can be found at https://www.nfib.com/content/legal-blog/coronavirus/the-employee-retention-tax-credit-erc-what-small-businesses-need-to-know/

Federal Judge Halts Biden’s Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers

Federal Judge Halts Biden’s Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers

By Corinne Murdock |

On Tuesday, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate for health care workers. Arizona health care workers under CMS jurisdiction via Medicare and Medicaid programs don’t have to adhere to the vaccine mandate. Louisiana Western District Judge Terry Doughty, an appointee of previous President Donald Trump, issued the order. 

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced the injunction Tuesday afternoon. 

“NATIONWIDE INJUNCTION Great news – a federal judge just granted our coalition’s request to STOP the Biden Administration’s overreaching ‘job or jab’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers. We will continue to take action to protect Arizona’s health care heroes,” wrote Brnovich.

Brnovich joined a coalition of 13 other states led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, in response to an emergency order issued by CMS on November 4. Under the CMS mandate, health care workers would’ve had to be fully vaccinated by January 4. That would’ve required individuals receiving vaccines requiring two doses to receive their first injection by December 6 to be fully compliant. 

In a memorandum, Doughty wrote that Biden’s attempt to bypass Congress posed a grave threat to our Constitutional order. He emphasized the importance of safeguarding American liberties more so during the pandemic than at any other time.

“If the separation of powers meant anything to the Constitutional framers, it meant that the three necessary ingredients to deprive a person of liberty or property – the power to make rules, to enforce them, and to judge their violations – could never fall into the same hands,” wrote Doughty. “The executive branch is allowed to usurp the power of the legislative branch to make laws, two of the three powers conferred by our Constitution would be in the same hands. If human nature and history teach anything, it is that civil liberties face grave risks when governments proclaim indefinite states of emergency.”

Although Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement on Tuesday emphasizing the importance of vaccinations to combating COVID-19 and the latest variant, Omicron, she didn’t address the ruling as of press time.

Neither did President Joe Biden. Instead, Biden’s remarks for most of Tuesday concerned bills his administration worked to pass such as the infrastructure law, with the school shooting in Oxford, Michigan occupying the remainder of that day. 

Reuters noted in their coverage that the White House declined to comment on these legal losses.

This is the latest in a series of legal battles over COVID-19 vaccine mandates that the president has lost. Courts also temporarily halted the federal contractor vaccine mandate, as well as a rule through the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to either be vaccinated or tested weekly. 

Kentucky Eastern District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove, a Bush appointee, also issued his order halting the Biden Administration’s requirement that new government contracts require contractor employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 on Tuesday. Tatenhove’s rationale for imposing the injunction was similar to Doughty’s, citing “serious Constitutional concerns.” Tatenhove didn’t dispute that the COVID-19 vaccine worked, or that the federal government could mandate vaccinations within certain circumstances. Rather, Tatenhove said that the legal question at hand concerned what authorities the president and federal government had.

“Can the president use congressionally delegated authority to manage the federal procurement of goods and services to impose vaccines on the employees of federal contractors and subcontractors? In all likelihood, the answer to that question is no,” wrote Tatenhove. “[T]here is a serious concern that Defendants have stepped into an area traditionally reserved to the States, and this provides an additional reason to temporarily enjoin the vaccine mandate.”

Read Doughty’s full opinion ordering an injunction against the CMS mandate here.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.