JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri – A federal mandate requiring nursing home staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 could exacerbate an already severe worker shortage, an industry advocate of Missouri lawmakers warned last week.
Nikki Strong, executive director of the Missouri Health Care Association, told members of a Missouri House subcommittee on Tuesday that she didn’t believe the federal mandate was the best way to get more household workers vaccinated. nursing.
âWe have to have healthcare workers, and we’re dangling by a thread right now,â Strong said.
Missouri lags behind all but two states – Florida and Louisiana – in the number of staff at its nursing homes who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. On average, 50.2% of nursing home staff are vaccinated in the state even though they were, along with residents, among the first Americans to be eligible for the vaccine last winter.
Residents of Missouri nursing homes have more enthusiastically embraced the COVID-19 vaccine to regain their freedom after many nursing homes instituted strict lockdowns to control the spread. About 84% of Missouri nursing home residents have been vaccinated.
Tuesday’s committee hearing was billed as a discussion of an upcoming mandate from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that nursing home staff should be vaccinated. CMS has yet to publish the rules.
But despite weeks of increasing COVID-19 cases in Missouri nursing homes, much of the discussion has centered on whether the vaccine’s mandate would keep nursing home staff away. and how Missouri might respond. Missouri Department of Health and Seniors’ Services staff told committee members there was likely no way around the warrant.
Rep. Dirk Deaton, a Christmas Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said he believes it is important that workers around the elderly get vaccinated. But he said having a shortage of healthcare workers was the only thing worse than having unvaccinated ones.
âThat’s what I’m afraid of. I hope it doesn’t come to that, and I hope we don’t see it, but I would feel really bad if we crossed that bridge and that happened and nobody ever said anything â, a- he declared.
COVID-19 on the rise again
COVID-19 cases have been increasing in Missouri nursing homes since June.
In the week ending Aug. 29, Missouri nursing homes reported 153 infections among staff and 121 infections among residents, according to home data reported to CMS. That was a drop from early August, when weekly staff infections topped 200 for the first time since January, while the vaccine was still being rolled out.
During the virus’s peak over the winter, nursing home residents have overtaken staff in COVID-19 infections. Infections for both groups fell sharply in February after the vaccine arrived.
But now it’s the employees who are falling ill, according to CMS data.
Rep. Peter Merideth, a Democrat from St. Louis, said he was frustrated with the discussion because demanding that healthcare workers be vaccinated seemed “common sense.”
Merideth noted that nursing home residents had no choice but to be near the staff members caring for them, which means they don’t have as much of a say on their level of risk exposure to someone who decides to eat in a restaurant.
Strong said she wanted residents to be safe, but homes need caregivers.
âWe had facilities begging their staff not to leave under the threat of an order,â Strong said.
Merideth replied, “Well, frankly you begged them to leave even without any conversation about the vaccines, right?” “
He said the nursing home understaffing crisis is the product of hard work and low wages, and committee members should work on how to fix this without making the homes less safe.
Lenny Jones, state director of SEIU Healthcare Missouri, a union representing healthcare workers, supported the vaccine’s mandate in a statement released at the start of the subcommittee meeting.
âUrgent action is needed to increase vaccination rates in Missouri with new variants threatening to prolong this ongoing crisis,â Jones said.
“Literally the least” that we can do
The settlement was also good news for AARP Missouri. The branch’s parent organization urged that vaccinations be mandatory for residents and nursing home staff.
“Getting the vaccine is literally the least a person working in a nursing home can do to protect the people they care for,” Jay Hardenbrook, director of advocacy for AARP Missouri, said last month.
CMS is also expected to issue a mandate to vaccinate nurses and healthcare workers in hospitals.
Asked earlier on Tuesday about the vaccination mandates for nurses and healthcare workers in hospitals and whether taking a vaccine is a personal choice, Donald Kauerauf, the new director of the Department of Health and Elderly Services, said said vaccinations would stop the spread of the virus and taking a vaccine was a personal decision throughout the process.
He said he was concerned about the effects the rule might have on staff at those facilities, but stressed that federal regulations had yet to be drafted by CMS.
âWe’re not even at that point yet. Sometimes I’m a little hesitant to go too fast in decisions based on rumors, âKauerauf said. âLet’s wait and see what the law says. We are not yet near that point.