OBERLIN, Ohio — Ohio has among the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the U.S. at Medicare-certified nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, according to the latest federal data.
Ohio ranks 49th in the U.S. for the percentage of nursing home staff fully vaccinated against the deadly virus.
As of March 6, data compiled by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services shows only 73.67% of Ohio nursing home staff were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Even fewer nursing home staff members have received a booster shot. The data says only 33.38% of fully vaccinated Ohio nursing home staff have received a booster.
Find out how nursing homes across Ohio rate - search our database below to see vaccination and booster rates for residents and staff, as well as total COVID-19 cases and deaths in each nursing home in Ohio:
More information here: COVID-19 Nursing Home Data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Only Missouri has a lower percentage of fully vaccinated nursing home staff. The data shows 72.81% of the state's nursing home staff are fully vaccinated. By comparison, in 19 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, more than 90% of nursing home staff are fully vaccinated. Rhode Island ranks first in the U.S., reporting 99.39% of nursing home staff fully vaccinated.
We found six Northeast Ohio facilities where not even half the staff are fully vaccinated, including:
- Longmeadow Care Center, 565 Bryn Mawr, Ravenna, OH 44266 - 35.4%
- Eagle Point Skilled Nursing & Rehab Center, 87 Staley Road, Orwell, OH 44043 - 39.3%
- Hudson Elms Nursing Center, 563 W. Streetsboro Rd, Hudson, OH, 33065 - 41.9%
- The Heights Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, 2801 E. Royalton Road, Broadview Heights, OH 44147 - 45.6%
- Altercare of Cuyahoga Falls Center for Rehab & Nursing, 2728 Bailey Rd, Cuyahoga Falls, OH, 44221 - 46.6%
- Heather Hill Care Communities, 12340 Bass Lake Rd, Chardon, OH 44024 - 47.6%
Ohio nursing homes are not doing much better when it comes to nursing home residents. The CMS data shows Ohio ranks 45th in the U.S. for the percentage of nursing home residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As of February 27, 83.33% of Ohio nursing home residents were fully vaccinated and 66.67% of fully vaccinated Ohio nursing home residents had received a booster.
Why so low?
"It’s disappointing that we’re not further than we are," said Dr. Brian McClain, Regional Medical Director, Region 5, Ohio Department of Aging Regional Rapid Response Assistance Program, which helps long-term care facilities manage COVID-19 outbreaks. "It means we still have some work to do to continue with the education and urging folks to get vaccinated," he said.
"We've got a lot of headwinds that we're fighting with this as far some misinformation, some strongly held beliefs on why it's important not to be vaccinated that we are dealing with on a regular basis," Dr. McClain said. "The most prominent that we're seeing is the hesitancy to be vaccinated because of not wanting to be mandated or forced to do something."
Why does it matter?
Despite declining cases rates, Dr. McClain said the omicron variant still poses a risk, especially for elderly or unvaccinated patients.
"We're definitely in a different spot," he said. However, he said, "This variant has dangers as well. We know that bad things can happen to you and have happened to people who have not been vaccinated."
Ohio Department of Health data shows patients older than 60 years old account for 87% of the state's deaths from COVID-19. The data also shows 24% of Ohio COVID-19 deaths were nursing home residents.
Find out information on COVID-19 in Ohio: OH COVID-19 Dashboard
"There’s not a credible reason to not get the vaccine in a healthcare environment," he said.
Dr. McClain said COVID-19 comes with other costs, especially for the elderly.
He said death rates from heart attack and strokes spiked during the pandemic. He said he's watched COVID-19 long-haulers experience significant decreases in their quality of life and social isolation sparking depression and anxiety in individuals already suffering from declining mental capacities.
"Why is vaccination so important?" he asked. "It's important for all of those reasons."
What should facilities do?
"If I could wave my magic wand and just say everybody's vaccinated, I would love that," Jill Herron, President & Treasurer, Welcome Nursing Home said. "The reality is that that's not who we are as a community."
Currently, only 67.2% of her staff are fully vaccinated. She said two current residents have also refused to be vaccinated.
"Initially, I was really shocked," Herron said. "I just couldn't believe that people wouldn't want to jump in line and get that vaccine...I think the science still shows that it is effective, but I do feel that there are people who have real concerns about the vaccine. Unfortunately, I feel like I have to respect that as well."
The nursing staff shortage, made worse by COVID-19, makes it difficult to replace workers who refuse the vaccine. There is a federal mandate requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated, but they can apply for religious and medical exemptions.
"It's impossible to argue that a fully vaccinated healthcare worker with appropriate personal protective gear on is not the safest situation," Dr. McClain said. "We also know though that having a health care worker who is caring and dedicated with preventive measures in place is the second best to have at that bedside. Having no one there is the riskiest."
Herron has another reason for keeping staff who applied for religious and medical exemptions instead of getting vaccinated. A COVID-19 outbreak hit her facility in early December 2020, just days before the vaccine was made available to Ohio nursing home staff and residents. She said 20 residents and a staff member died.
"It just felt like a punch in the gut, she said. "It was devastating."
She said many of the unvaccinated staff members are the same workers who showed up, day after day, to care for elderly residents during that deadly outbreak when the consequences of catching COVID-19 were less clear.
"I just didn't feel like I could say, 'You were good enough to put your life on the line when we didn't know what COVID was, but you're not good enough as a caregiver because you've chosen not to get the vaccine,'" she said.