Clock is ticking for unvaccinated nursing home workers to get the shot

Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 7:29 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Nursing home workers have as little as 30 days to get the COVID-19 vaccine or they will lose their jobs.

A new national vaccine mandate is in place for the people who care for our loved ones.

Nursing home residents have been the hardest hit during the pandemic and most staff in Ohio are already stretched thin.

But with about 40-45% of nursing home staff in the state unvaccinated, for many, it’s time to make a choice.

“So now the rubber is going to meet the road because the mandate is—I mean they have to get the first shot by Dec. 5. And that’s right around the corner,” said Pete Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association.

OHCA represents long-term and home service providers.

The new federal mandate applies to millions of health care workers regulated by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, including hospitals, nursing homes, and some home health agencies.

The final ruling from the federal government came down Thursday.

Van Runkle doesn’t think it applies to assisted living facilities.

He believes most nursing home workers will get the shot.

But he said even if five to 10% don’t, that’s a big problem.

Nursing homes faced a staffing crisis even before the pandemic hit.

“They are understaffed. They can’t find enough people as it is. And they’re having to cut back on admissions, stop admissions. They’re having to turn people away. They’re having to close down services. And that will only accelerate if they only lose a few people,” Van Runkle said.

He said OHCA supports COVID-19 vaccines and they’ve made a difference.

Deaths and cases in long-term care are down substantially from earlier in the pandemic.

“Certainly more vaccination means more protection. But on the other hand, less staff means worse care. So it’s kind of balancing those things out. If we can’t even provide care, there will be negative outcomes from that,” Van Runkle said.

Testing for unvaccinated nursing home staff is not an option under the mandate, which some local nursing homes we spoke with were hoping for.

Van Runkle said what happens in the next month will be critical for workers and families.

Qualifying health care workers must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

The mandate will be enforced by routine inspections and surveys of facilities.

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