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Nursing homes worry vaccine mandate will have devastating repercussions on labor shortage

13 News at Six
Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 6:02 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Many nursing homes are worried the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers will have devastating repercussions on the already strained workforce.

The American Health Care Association, which represents over 14,000 nursing homes and long-term care facilities throughout the nation that provide care to 5 million people each year, says the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers.

The Association is worried the move will have devastating repercussions on the already widespread health care worker shortage. It urged the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to show leniency to health care workers and consider regular testing options for the unvaccinated.

“We respect the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court but remain concerned that the repercussions of the vaccine mandate among health care workers will be devastating to an already decimated long-term care workforce,” said president and CEO of AHCA Mark Parkinson. “When we are in the midst of another COVID surge, caregivers in vaccine-hesitant communities may walk off the job because of this policy, further threatening access to care for thousands of our nation’s seniors. We continue to ask that CMS and state surveyors show leniency during this critical time as well as consider a regular testing option for unvaccinated staff members to prevent worsening staff shortages.”

Parkinson said 83% of nursing home staff are already fully vaccinated.

“Long-term care providers have been relentless in encouraging staff to get vaccinated, and we have made considerable progress with 83 percent of nursing home staff now fully vaccinated. However, rampant misinformation has sowed doubt and concern among many on the frontlines. We must collectively address the root cause of vaccine hesitancy rather than penalize providers who are making valiant efforts.”

However, doctors in Kansas City at the University of Kansas Health System said the move was needed and celebrated the mandate on Friday.

Also on Friday, AHCA said nursing homes and assisted living communities continue to feel the burden of a worsening staff shortage. It said the profession has lost over 230,000 caregivers, nearly 15% of the workforce, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, AHCA said the highly contagious Omicron variant has caused a record number of new staff cases in nursing homes, where workers must follow isolation protocols. It said the lack of workers has forced many facilities to limit admissions, putting further strain on already overwhelmed hospitals that rely on them to free up beds.

AHCA said some states have even deployed the National Guard to aid these short-staffed facilities, including Minnesota, New Jersey and New York.

Last week, the Association said it sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to urge him to extend the Public Health Emergency. Wit the Omicron variant projected to last for weeks to come during a historic labor crisis, it said extending the PHE will help long-term care providers respond to the challenge.

AHCA said lawmakers need to prioritize long-term care. It said support from federal and state governments will help nursing homes and assisted living communities to build and maintain the robust workforce needed to care for seniors.

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