AUGUSTA, Maine – Weeks after Maine’s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers went into effect, data suggests it has had little impact on total employment in the industry, but the state still faces a shortage of healthcare workers as the pandemic continues.
The continued staffing problems come as COVID-19 cases in Maine are as high as they have ever been in winter, with a record 327 people hospitalized with the virus on Thursday and unvaccinated people continuing to lead the majority of cases.
Early data from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services suggests total health care employment declined only slightly after the vaccine’s mandate, although the effects varied among providers and individual facilities. , mainly nursing homes, experienced a larger decline.
The requirement followed more than a year of declining employment due to the pandemic for an industry already struggling with no easy fix despite additional funding underway. It is difficult to separate the broader effects on this sector and others from the mandate.
âWhen we talk to our members, the # 1 reason workers leave long-term care jobs is burnout and stress,â said Angela Westhoff, CEO of the Maine Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes. and long-term care facilities. âI think the pandemic has really just intensified all of this. The mandate of vaccines is certainly one of them, but less so. “
Governor Janet Mills’ mandate, which came into effect in late October, is among the strictest in the country for healthcare workers, with no testing options or non-medical exemptions. Immunization rates rose sharply after that – the rate among nursing home staff fell from 72% in July to just under 97% in October, while it fell from 80% to 98% among hospital employees.
During the same period, total employment in hospitals increased slightly, according to state data. The gains were still uneven. Providers such as Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston have faced challenges, term-related departures exacerbating persistent difficulties in filling vacancies.
Nursing homes, assisted living, and providers serving people with disabilities were more likely to see workers leave after tenure. In these categories of suppliers, total employment fell by more than 1,100 workers, or about 7%, from July to October.
Some workers cited this requirement as their reason for leaving, and providers who closed or removed beds this fall said the loss of these workers was the main reason for their inability to continue to provide full services. Others that closed this year also pointed to unrelated issues, such as a lack of affordable housing.
But while employment fell in the months following the announcement of the mandate, it had also fallen before. Employment data showed the biggest drop in nursing home employment in spring 2020, coinciding with the outbreak of the virus. Unlike hospitals, which have largely rebounded this year after losing staff at the start of the pandemic, nursing homes in Maine that rely heavily on low-wage workers have struggled to make up for the initial losses.
This decrease corresponds to a national trend. A report released earlier this month by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living found that nursing home employment had fallen 14% nationwide since March 2020.
The report, based on federal data, predated the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine mandates. While Maine and a handful of other states now require vaccines for healthcare workers, all providers who receive Medicare funding – including nursing homes – are expected to face a similar mandate from January 2021.
As in Maine, burnout appears to be the main factor driving nursing home staff out of the United States at the moment, said Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Association. But he also pointed to low levels of funding, saying long-term care facilities “find it difficult to compete” with other providers as well as other sectors in a tight labor market.
In Maine, increasing wages as well as offering enrollment bonuses or bonuses for staff who take extra shifts can help establishments tackle the worker shortage, Westhoff of Maine said. Health Care Association. Additional funding for vendors, like the $ 14 million that Mills announced last month to boost recruitment and retention, could help, though it’s only temporary.
“One-time money helps,” she said, “but it’s one-time money.”
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