2-state care homes fear vaccination mandate will cost them staff

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 12:48 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - Some nursing homes and retirement communities on both sides of the Savannah River are concerned that an expected vaccination mandate for employees could make harder to fill open positions.

President Joe Biden announced last week that people who work in nursing homes and serve people on Medicare or Medicaid will be required to get a COVID vaccine.

Danny Sanford, the president and CEO of Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Community in West Columbia, S.C., said he is waiting to see what the exact language of this anticipated mandate will be and who will be required to get a vaccine under it. That information has not yet been released.

Sanford said he wouldn’t have a problem with a broad vaccine mandate for all health care and elder care workers, but he does not want to see a requirement specific to skilled nursing staff who serve people on Medicare and Medicaid, like some of his employees.

He said that is because he would be concerned potential applicants who don’t want to get vaccinated would immediately dismiss jobs from Still Hopes and other places with a requirement. He’s also afraid of losing current employees.

“There’s hospice and hospitals and home healthcare agencies and dialysis centers even. There’s all sorts of places that hire those medical kinds of folks,” Sanford said. “Assisted living would be another place that’s a huge industry that has a lot of open positions that would have no mandate.”

The pandemic exacerbated a pre-existing nursing shortage, Sanford said.

“We haven’t hit a position where we are out of staff, but it has become pretty critical for us not to lose any more staff and to be able to recruit some folks along the way,” he said.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living wrote in a statement that it shares these concerns, saying that while it appreciates the Biden administration’s efforts to get more people vaccinated, nursing homes would face “disastrous workforce challenge” without a broader mandate that encompasses all healthcare workers.

Tony Marshall, CEO of the Georgia Health Association, says the group has always supported vaccinations.

But he says the new rule could create challenges for staffing and more.

“We certainly agree that vaccinations is the right way,” said Marshall. “It would just create a potential issue for us to have an adequate workforce.”

But Biden says his only goal is to protect people in nursing homes from dying from COVID.

“More than 130,000 residents in nursing homes sadly over the period of this virus passed away,” said Biden.

Nursing homes in Georgia and across the nation are seeing employee shortages and Marshall says they fear employees could be hesitant to get vaccinated.

They “will just simply just leave the long-term care profession and just move to other employers,” said Marshall.

The Georgia Health Association expects to see these changes being enforced in September. However, some hope nursing homes will enforce the vaccination requirement in stages.

“If you do it in a phased-in approach, it allows people the time to think through it,” said Marshall.

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