Some states are under fire for failing to sue nursing homes for vaccine mandate violations for staff.
Nursing facilities and skilled nursing homes are among the myriad of health workers where staff are required to be vaccinated under the Biden administration’s public health mandates aimed at ramping up vaccinations nationwide.
About 750 nursing homes and 110 hospitals nationwide were reported to have violated federal staff vaccination rules during the past year, according to an analysis of Associated Press data by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
However, three states — Florida, Kansas and Texas — have refused to screen staff for vaccination violations, leaving that process to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). According to AP’s analysis, this led CMS to dock Texas with more than $2.5 million in federal funding, Florida with more than $1.2 million and Kansas with nearly $350,000.
Some industry stakeholders have said the mandates should be lifted, as the risk is not as severe as in previous years and many employees still feel hesitant about vaccination.
“Their regulations are making it harder to give assistance, not easier,” Tim Corbin, the administrator of Truman Lake Manor in Florida, told the Associated Press. According to the article, only 42 percent of adults in St. Clair County, where the facility is located, are vaccinated against COVID-19, a rate just half the national average.
However, the general sentiment from policy makers is that the vaccination mandate is necessary to protect nursing home residents, with CMS calling vaccinations a “number one priority,” in a nationwide call of nursing home stakeholders.
And although there was speculation that the staffing mandate would lead to an unsustainable level of employee departures for an industry already saddled with a staffing crisis, some researchers have argued that such claims are generally unsubstantiated.
“This is an important requirement,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told the Associated Press. “Not only does it protect the healthcare worker themselves, but it also protects the patients.”
Meanwhile, nursing home advocacy groups such as ACHA and LeadingAge have expressed concern about the usefulness of the vaccine mandate for staff at a time of labor shortages.
“While the federal COVID vaccine mandate for staffing was enforced in nearly every healthcare sector, nursing homes still lost thousands of workers soon after the mandate went into effect,” Holly Harmon, Senior Vice President of Quality, Regulatory, and Clinical Affairs at AHCA/NCAL told Skilled Nursing News. “Even losing a nurse or a CNA can be a challenge for a facility.”
Harmon said workforce shortages are forcing more than half of nursing homes to limit resident admissions and that the industry needs a concerted effort and support to help rebuild our care workforce at long term, not unfunded staff mandates.
“Meanwhile, nursing homes are the safest they have ever been from COVID-19, thanks to vaccines, treatments, infection control procedures, and the diligent efforts of dedicated staff serving our nation’s seniors,” he said. stated. “Our focus on COVID vaccines remains on encouraging the long-term care community, especially our residents as they are the most susceptible to serious illness, to stay up to date on their vaccinations.”
According to the AP, about 5 percent of the more than 15,000 nursing homes caring for Medicare or Medicaid patients have been cited for violating their COVID-19 vaccination mandate. Yet those citations weren’t evenly distributed across states and occurred less often during the second half of 2022.
“We are continuing our educational efforts, fighting misinformation and COVID fatigue, and working with public health officials and other stakeholders to improve recall rates in nursing homes,” Harmon said.
In 2021, LeadingAge, which represents 5,000 nonprofit nursing homes, supported the vaccination mandate for staff.
“The situation today with COVID cases is very different, which is why we are not calling for continued tenure,” a LeadingAge spokesperson told SNN. “That said – mandated or not – our belief in the efficacy, safety and importance of vaccines as a vital tool to protect older adults, professional healthcare workers and communities from COVID, remains.”