Nursing homes, retirement communities wary of potential hiring ramifications of anticipated vaccine mandate – WIS10

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – Some nursing homes and retirement communities said they are concerned that an expected edict from the Biden administration could make it more difficult 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.

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Danny Sanford, the president and CEO of Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Community in West Columbia, 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 healthcare workers and all eldercare workers, but he does not want to see a requirement that is 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 in favor of the hundreds of other employers that would not have to require vaccinations, along with current employees who might do the same.

“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 preexisting nursing shortage, Sanford said, and they don’t want that problem to get even worse.

“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.

“Focusing only on nursing homes will cause vaccine-hesitant workers to flee to other health care providers and leave many centers without adequate staff to care for residents,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the AHCA/NCAL, said in the statement. “It will make an already difficult workforce shortage even worse. The net effect of this action will be the opposite of its intent and will affect the ability to provide quality care to our residents. We look forward to working with the Administration in the coming days to develop solutions to overcome this challenge.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report that about 60% of workers are vaccinated at the average American nursing home.

Sanford said Still Hopes it is still educating, encouraging, and incentivizing its workers to get vaccinated, even if it isn’t requiring it.

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