Thousands of home helpers in Philadelphia remain unvaccinated, making it unlikely that many in the industry will get vaccinated in time to meet the city’s Oct. 15 vaccination mandate for workers in the city. health.
âThe numbers are pretty low and pretty striking,â said Teri Henning, executive director of the Pennsylvania Home Care Association. âThere is a lot of work to be done in a very short period of time.
The mandate requires, with few exceptions, that anyone working in health care in the city be vaccinated before the deadline. Immunization figures are so low that the industry is seeking an extension of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. It’s a possibility, spokesman James Garrow said, but wondered if more time would make a difference.
âGiven that the deadline was announced on August 13, giving people more than two months to get vaccinated,â he said, âit could be questionable that an extension at this point will cause people to to act”.
Home health care may include skilled nursing, palliative care caregivers, and home health aides who do not have specific medical training, and it is the latter group that is of particular concern, Henning said. There is no precise vaccination count among them, but she said conversations with vendors and business owners indicated that about half of the city’s roughly 50,000 assistants had not been vaccinated. The people they serve are some of the city’s most vulnerable, and many are at risk of the worst effects of COVID-19 due to age, illness or disability.
READ MORE: Faced with COVID and civil unrest, Philly home health workers still show up for risky work
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has recognized the large number of home care workers who are not vaccinated. Some nursing homes had also done no better than fully immunizing about half of their employees, Garrow said, although the median vaccination rate among the city’s nursing homes was 74%.
A handful of major Philadelphia nursing homes did not respond to calls for information on their immunization rates.
In Pennsylvania, which does not have a vaccination mandate for healthcare workers, about 65% of nursing home workers are vaccinated, roughly the same national vaccination rate for these workers. A federal immunization mandate for all Medicare and Medicaid-certified health facilities is expected to be finalized in October.
The city’s mandate has so far garnered mixed compliance. Several large hospital systems – some of which have imposed warrants in front of the city – have already reported more than 90% of their workers vaccinated.
Unless unvaccinated workers decide to take the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine by Friday, they will not meet the city’s October 15 deadline. Even if a worker were given an injection of the two-dose vaccine options, Moderna or Pfizer, on Friday, that person would not receive their second dose before the deadline.
“We are more concerned about the low immunization rates in nursing homes due to the high rates of hospitalizations and deaths that occurred at these facilities earlier in the pandemic,” Garrow said.
The city is not hosting any clinics for the next two weeks specifically aimed at healthcare providers, but Garrow noted that there are 350 vaccination sites throughout the city, and many of them allow people to be vaccinated. without an appointment.
The warrant allows for exemptions based on documented health or religious issues, and exempt workers could wear masks and undergo frequent testing instead.
Home care agencies fear their staff will be emptied.
âI honestly believe I would lose 50% of my workforce,â said Michael Spivak, general manager of All American Home Care, which includes a Philadelphia site employing approximately 1,000 people.
Spivak applauded the mandate when the city announced it in August. He was happy that this removed the burden on business owners to require vaccination, and believed it would quickly increase vaccination rates. It didn’t work that way, he said.
âI really thought it would start with the city, then other cities would pick it up, then the state would pick it up, and then they wouldn’t have a choice,â Spivak said.
Providers have made efforts to get the doses accepted by unvaccinated workers. Lolita Owens, a home health aide at Liberty Resources Home Choices and a representative for SEIU, the union that represents some health workers, had one-on-one conversations with colleagues to encourage vaccination. She herself hesitated when the vaccine was first available, she said. Two people she cares about convinced her that the shot was safe and necessary.
âWhen you walk in and out of people’s homes, when you go to work with your coworkers,â she said, âyou should be vaccinated, not just for yourself, but for them as well. “
READ MORE: Healthcare and higher education workers, students to get vaccinated by mid-October, Philadelphia announces
Owens hears colleagues say they don’t want to be vaccinated for religious reasons, but few have expressed fear of the vaccine. Many just don’t want to be told what to do.
âI heard someone say, ‘Why are they trying to tell me what to do with my body?’ “she said.” I think they realize [having COVID-19] maybe it can be that bad, but then you’ve got people who might be like, “well, i’m gonna take this chance”. Or even you got some that say ‘I won’t be the only one to have [sick] because I do this, that and the third to take care of myself. “
Liberty has held a raffle to encourage vaccination, Owens said, and expects to have two more before the deadline. Spivak is partnering with a vaccine supplier to host a clinic in his office, he said.
Home care providers, Henning said, have spoken with the city’s health department about the extension.
The mandate as it stands, she said, “would leave a huge number of caregivers unable to work.”
Anyone wishing to be vaccinated in the city can visit phila.gov/vaccine or vaccines.gov.
Editors Jonathan Lai, Justine McDaniel and Erin McCarthy contributed to this report.