Roughly 30% of Colorado’s long-term care employees remain unvaccinated – KUSA

Colorado isn’t requiring staff in residential care facilities to get vaccinated, but all unvaccinated staff must be tested daily.

DENVER — Vaccines are no longer a recommendation for thousands of workers in Colorado – Kaiser Pemanente, the state’s largest nonprofit health care system, will require all 200,000 employees nationwide to get the vaccine.

So will the city of Denver.

Denver’s order covers 10,000 city employees, including workers in high-risk settings like nursing homes. Other private-sector workers required to get vaccinated by Sept. 30 include home health care providers and employees in hospitals and clinical settings.

Colorado Health Care Association (CHCA), the group that represents long-term care centers in the state, supports that move. 

“The higher we can get Denver’s rate, we know that the fewer cases we will see in these residential care facilities among our very vulnerable people,” said Doug Farmer, president and CEO of CHCA. 

He added, “I commend the fact that it is for all health care workers. If you start picking and choosing between types of workers, than that gives a health care worker the ability to shift from one sector of healthcare to another.”

Farmer said the association is open to the idea of a statewide vaccine mandate for all health care workers, not just employees of a specific sector.

“If it is for all health care, then someone is really having to make the decision I’ve worked in health care for however long and now I have to decide if I am going to work in something other than healthcare,” said Farmer. 

The decision to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine statewide is out of his control.

As of July 27, roughly 30% of long-term care employees in Colorado are unvaccinated. According to CHCA, 71% of employees in nursing centers had their vaccine and 72% of assisted living center employees had their vaccine as of July 27. 

“I don’t know that I’m surprised,” said Farmer. “I would really like to see those numbers go up.”

Farmer said he’s hearing workers are concerned about the safety of the vaccine and feel it was rushed. 

While about a third of long-term care employees are still unvaccinated in Colorado, cases and deaths inside the state’s facilities remain relatively low according to data from the CDC.

“We support increased vaccination and we support those employers that have chosen to mandate vaccine at this point.” he said. 

Columbine Health Systems operates assisted living facilities and nursing homes in Larimer County. Effective April 1, the company mandated all employees and vendors that come into their centers to be fully vaccinated or in the process of being fully vaccinated. 

“Less than 50 out of a total of 1,600 employees left us after the vaccine mandate came out,” said Joel Bitler, director of Clinical Services at Columbine Health. 

Bitler said the company felt the vaccine mandate was a way out of the pandemic. He believes the requirement is contributing to fewer cases within their facilities. 

“No deaths, no severe illness,” said Bitler, “Few folks have had to go to the hospital for a couple days but they have all returned.”

In Denver, Farmer said he’s already heard from providers who are worried they will lose employees to other counties that do not require the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Even if they were to lose one or two employees is a real challenge,” he said. “I think it is certainly worth tracking, and following back with some of the providers in the Denver metro.”