Missouri nursing home workers have the second-lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the country, according to recently released federal data.
Although the vast majority of residents in Missouri long-term care homes are now vaccinated, rates have lagged among the workers responsible for their care, with 45% still unvaccinated. A pending federal mandate could soon force unvaccinated nursing home staff across the state to roll up their sleeves – or risk losing their jobs.
Since the start of the pandemic, 3,791 residents of Missouri nursing homes have died from COVID-19. Almost 1 in 3 of them deaths occurred in St. Louis County.
Just over 86% of Missouri nursing home residents are fully immunized, slightly more than the national average for the United States.
Unvaccinated people in their 80s have the greatest chance of dying from COVID-19 – but even for vaccinated people in this age group, the disease can be fatal. Fully vaccinated people over 80 years of age have a 13 times more likely to die COVID-19, compared to vaccinated people of all ages.
Because elderly nursing home residents living in nearby neighborhoods are very vulnerable to infection, workers can unknowingly trigger outbreaks in a facility, Jenny Hollandsworth said, long-term care ombudsman for the state of Missouri.
âWe have staff who are in their communities who may have pockets of high positivity rates and then they come back into the facility and potentially bring that to a resident,â Hollandsworth said. âHaving staff vaccinated adds another layer of protection. “
Some human rights organizations, including the AARP, have uses facilities to require vaccination of employees, following an increase in the number of cases among residents and staff of retirement homes over the summer.
âThe high death rates from COVID among nursing home residents and staff have been a national disgrace,â AARP executive vice president Nancy A. LeaMond said in a press release. âAs new variations emerge, installations cannot allow preventable problems to reoccur. The key is to increase immunizations, and to do it now.
Concerns over worsening staff shortages
The Biden administration announced in August that all U.S. nursing homes would be required to immunize staff or risk losing federal funding.
But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulate the healthcare industry, have yet to release official rules on the warrant. Without a clear idea of ââwhen the regulations will take effect, nursing home operators have been left in limbo.
Some managers fear that vaccination mandates will get worse long-standing staff shortagesaid Jessica Rogalski, an ombudsman for VOYCE, a non-profit organization that advocates for nursing home residents and their families.
âI’ve spoken to a lot of facility managers, and they’re very worried about what the future holds,â said Rogalski, who covers the northeastern corner of Missouri. “They’re having enough trouble trying to get employees already, but if they cut employees because of the tenure, how are they going to get more?” “
Several smaller facilities where the majority of staff are not vaccinated told him they would be forced to close once the mandate goes into effect, Rogalski said.
Federal officials have not explicitly specified whether all nursing home staff, including janitorial and catering workers, will be required to be vaccinated – or whether the requirements will be limited to healthcare workers.
Since many hospitals already require vaccinations, nursing home workers who choose to forgo the vaccine may find it difficult to find another job in the healthcare industry, Hollandsworth said.
âIf you want to stay in the healthcare business, chances are you need to get the vaccine wherever you go,â she said. “So we hope this might encourage people who are really passionate about long-term care to go ahead and get the shot.”
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