Biden’s mandate requiring all nursing home staff get vaccinated has local leaders very concerned

A labor shortage and a mandate could affect quality of care
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Posted at 7:44 AM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 07:47:58-04

OBERLIN, Ohio — Welcome Nursing Home has been a place of care and comfort in the Oberlin community since 1945.

Jill Herron is a third generation owner. She said even during the height of the pandemic, she and her staff did the best they could to make sure top care was provided and people were safe.

“We were filling the shoes of family members and clergy. It was a tough time,” she said. “We provided great quality of care, even at the end days of some of our residents’ lives.”

But she’s worried that quality of care could diminish if the Biden Administration follows through on a mandate the president announced Wednesday requiring that nursing home staff are vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.

"I am using the power of the federal government, as a payer of health care costs, to ensure we reduce those risks to the most vulnerable seniors," Biden said Wednesday.

Herron said she was shocked with the funding disclaimer. She said the majority of her funds come from Medicare and Medicaid.

“If my funding would be jeopardized to that extent, we would not survive,” she said.

Herron said about 97% of her residents are vaccinated. But despite her encouragement, only about 60% of her staff is.

“If I lose 40% of my healthcare team, it’s just not sustainable,” she said.

It puts her and many others in the long-term care industry in between a rock and a hard place.

Ohio Healthcare Association’s Executive Director Peter Van Runkle said, statewide, only about 52% of nursing home staff is vaccinated.

“A few months after the original vaccination push, we were at a place where those who were left were really against it,” he said. “We believe in it. We know, intellectually, that it is the best defense we have against COVID.”

But he said a mandate will be disastrous for the long-term care industry.

“They’re not going to knuckle under to a mandate, some of them may, but many of them will not. They’ll say ‘fine, I’m going to work somewhere else where I don’t need to have the shot,’” said Van Runkle.

He noted nearly every one of the members of the association is struggling with a worker shortage.

“The average assisted living in the state has 10 open positions currently, and skilled nursing it’s about 19 [positions]. They already can’t fill those positions. You take out another 5,10,15 people and they’re now really in trouble,” he said.

Herron has open positions at her nursing home. She said while she’ll keep pushing the science behind the vaccine and educating her unvaccinated staff, she has no doubt people will leave.

“To think that our already struggling workforce would be diminished of good quality people because of a vaccine is disheartening,” she said.

Both Van Runkle and Herron said, ultimately, this will affect the recipients of the care and people who rely on it inside the nursing homes.

“If staff walk out in droves, the people that they care for are going to get hurt. That’s all there is to it,” he said.

He's hoping the OHCA and other affiliates can work with the Biden Administration to come up with a way to encourage vaccinations while, also, not losing quality workers.

RELATED: Biden to require nursing homes get staff vaccinated or lose federal funds