Nursing home vaccine mandate called “catastrophic” for staffing shortages

PITTSBURGH — The Biden administration announced on Wednesday a major new mandate for nursing homes and COVID-19 vaccines: get employees vaccinated or lose federal funding.

Vaccine hesitancy among nursing home employees has been a major issue. Last week, 11 Investigates looked into the issue.

Now, the announcement has many nursing homes reeling. Owners are worried about an already critical staffing shortage.

Here are links to resources you may need during the COVID-19 pandemic

“My concern is it’s going to be catastrophic when it comes to making sure we have enough staff that want to work in these building(s) caring for seniors who need (to be) cared for,” Paramount Senior Living CEO James Cox said.

More than 40% of all nursing home employees in the state have declined to get the shot. Earlier this month, 11 Investigates Angie Moreschi talked to employees who were hesitant to get the vaccine. They said a mandate wouldn’t change their minds.

“I wouldn’t get it if it were mandated today,” licensed practical nurse Karli Wolfe previously said.

The details of the new mandate are still being flushed out, but the new rules could go into effect as soon as next month.

[Here is how to stay informed about coronavirus updates from WPXI]

Nursing homes depend on Medicaid and Medicare dollars, and without that money, it’s not clear how many would survive.

Facility owners are hoping there will be an option for more testing for employees who refuse to get the shot.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association released this statement in response to President Biden’s nursing home vaccine mandate.

“After seventeen months of providing tireless care at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, long-term care continues to face a troubling trend of federal and state governments threatening and punishing the same healthcare heroes they once supported and rallied behind. As the heroic effort to care for tens of thousands of vulnerable seniors continues, we are calling on elected leaders to support our providers – who are persistently educating workers about the vaccine – rather than threaten to hinder and harm the critical care they provide. The vaccine mandate proposed today by President Biden – and the threat of withholding federal dollars for an essential industry already on the brink of collapse – has the potential to exacerbate an existing workforce crisis and jeopardize access to care for tens of thousands of vulnerable residents throughout Pennsylvania. Providers are already being forced to limit new admissions. That, too, should be a concerning trend.

“Unfortunately, today, providers were given a clear choice by the President: risk losing essential frontline workers, or risk the state and federal reimbursement it will take to compensate those workers. The Pennsylvania Health Care Association continues its longstanding call for state and federal leaders to support our long-term care providers, healthcare heroes and the residents they serve as we monitor the rise of COVID-19 cases in our surrounding communities. Assistance and collaboration – not threats or punishment – will lead to success and sustainability in long-term care, whether it’s solving a workforce crisis or increasing vaccine acceptance rates amongst staff.”

Wednesday’s announcement marks the fourth different government vaccine mandate for Pennsylvania nursing homes in eight days.