The Federal Emergency Management Agency is deploying contracted medical workers to understaffed hospitals, where they are required to comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But social media posts falsely claim that “doctors and nurses are being forced to quit over the mandates,” while the workers sent by FEMA are “exempt.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, coordinates with other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services, to prepare for and respond to major disasters. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, FEMA has worked to identify and deploy additional medical staff at the request of state, tribal and territorial governments.
But social media posts falsely claim that FEMA workers are replacing unvaccinated health care workers at understaffed facilities and are not required to be vaccinated themselves.
One viral Facebook post, which has been shared more than 350 times, claims that “Drs & Nurses refusing the poke are being fired cuz their being around patients would be just an absolute public health catastrophe! YET, their replacements from Fema do NOT have to have the poke… makes a ton of sense.”
Screenshots of tweets reposted on Instagram similarly assert that “DOCTORS & NURSES ARE BEING FORCED TO QUIT OVER THE MANDATES UNDER A SLEEPY CREEPY ADMINISTRATION, BUT YET FEMA DOCTORS & NURSES ARE EXEMPT UNDER THE SAME ADMINISTRATION!”
These posts are wrong for multiple reasons.
First, as we’ve previously reported, President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 executive order requiring federal employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine applies to all executive branch employees. FEMA is within the Department of Homeland Security, which is listed under Title 5 as an executive department.
“FEMA employees like all federal employees are required to be vaccinated,” Nicholas Morici, a FEMA spokesperson, told FactCheck.org in an Oct. 19 email.
The social media posts also misrepresent FEMA’s role in assisting states’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. FEMA works with other federal agencies to identify medical workers that can be deployed to understaffed health care facilities across the country — but these personnel are not FEMA employees.
“These deployed medical staff abide by the vaccination and other preventive measures … established by the receiving facility,” Caitlin Justesen, acting press secretary at FEMA, told us in an email on Oct. 20.
The agency does not have a permanent medical staff, a FEMA representative who asked not to be named told us in a phone interview. Instead, FEMA and its partner agencies have contracts with medical providers who are temporarily relocated to areas with acute health care needs. These medical providers include physicians, nurses, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and public health experts.
The FEMA representative said that as of Oct. 14, 917 contracted medical staff were working in 21 states and one territory, the majority of which were clinical personnel supporting patient care as the delta variant spreads in vulnerable areas.
FEMA also has shipped more than 3,000 critical medical supplies — including ventilators, nasal cannulas, dialysis machines and oxygen regulators — to states experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases since July.
During the week of Oct. 19, at the request of FEMA, U.S. Army North deployed about 40 military medical personnel — including respiratory therapists, doctors and nurses from the U.S. Navy — to medical centers in Spokane and Wenatchee, Washington, to assist in treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Nine additional teams from ARNORTH are actively supporting the COVID-19 response in hospitals and medical centers across the country — three teams in Louisiana, two in Mississippi, two in Alabama, one in Idaho and one in Tennessee.
Hospitals across the country are struggling with staffing shortages, exacerbated in part by health care workers who have refused to comply with Biden’s mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for those in most health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.
The mandate affected 17 million health care workers. Thousands have reportedly been terminated or quit rather than receive the vaccine.
According to Justesen, FEMA has not received any formal requests from state governments for additional medical support due to staffing shortages caused by personnel refusing the vaccine.
In Hawaii, about a dozen FEMA-contracted medical personnel worked in local hospitals performing monoclonal antibody treatments and vaccinations during the week of Oct. 18. Hawaii has experienced health care staffing shortages since before the start of the pandemic, but these contracted workers are not intended to replace full-time employees.
“FEMA contracts are not intended to address staff vacancies; the FEMA-funded staff may only perform COVID-19 related work to relieve the burden on existing medical staff,” Adam Weintraub, communication director at Hawaii Emergency Management, said in an Oct. 25 email to FactCheck.org.
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
White House. Executive Order on Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees. 9 Sep 2021.
Hale Spencer, Saranac. “White House and HHS Employees Aren’t ‘Exempt’ from Vaccine Mandate.” FactCheck.org. 7 Oct 2021.
Justesen, Caitlin. Acting press secretary, Federal Emergency Management Agency. Email to FactCheck.org. 20 Oct 2021.
Lenthang, Marlene. “Hundreds of hospital staffers fired or suspended for refusing COVID-19 vaccine mandate.” ABC News. 30 Sept 2021.
Morici, Nicholas. Spokesperson, Federal Emergency Management Agency. Email to FactCheck.org. 19 Oct 2021.
Muoio, Dave. “How many employees have hospitals lost to vaccine mandates? Here are the numbers so far.” Fierce Healthcare. 15 Oct 2021.
White House. Path out of the Pandemic. Accessed 22 Oct 2021.
Reavis, Charlotte. “ARNORTH military hospital support to FEMA begins in Washington, continues in five states.” U.S. Army. 19 Oct 2021.
Szekely, Peter and Barbara Goldberg. “A few skeptical U.S. hospital workers choose dismissal over vaccine.” Reuters. 3 Oct 2021.
Weintraub, Adam. Communication director, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Email to FactCheck.org. 25 Oct 2021.
5 U.S. Code § 101 – Executive departments. Law.cornell.edu. Accessed 22 Oct 2021.