Wisconsin Nursing Homes Prepare for Vaccination Mandate; more drop in staff to be feared | New

Federal Vaccine Mandate Nursing Home Accolade

MADISON (WKOW) – Leaders in the Wisconsin nursing home industry are bracing for the impact of an impending COVID-19 vaccine mandate for nursing home staff.
The federal mandate takes effect the first week of January. In order for the unvaccinated to comply with the mandate, the first doses of vaccine should be administered early next month.

“I would say there is great anxiety in the world of long-term care,” said CEO John Sauer of LeadingAge Wisconsin, an organization affiliated with dozens of nursing home operators.

“We need more and more people in the public and people living and working in nursing homes to receive the vaccine,” Sauer said. But Sauer points to the current challenge of convincing long-term care staff to accept the vaccine. “We are at a vaccination rate of around 68.69%,” Sauer said. “We unfortunately have a few facilities below a 50% vaccination rate.”

Sauer says approaches to entice staff to receive the vaccine have failed. “They resisted financial incentives, education, coaxing.”

At Rock Haven Nursing Home, operated by Rock County, more than a dozen unvaccinated staff were laid off last year as the facility was one of the only nursing homes in the state in impose vaccination. The county supervisory board abandoned the mandate in May and some of the displaced workers returned.

County board vice chairman Wes Davis agrees that the federal vaccine mandate may once again trigger staffing issues at the facility.

“I suspect that keeping the same level of employment will be difficult in the future,” predicts Davis. “And it won’t be an easy solution to all of this.

Davis and Sauer say declining recruitment and retention of nursing home staff was already an issue before the challenges of the pandemic. Sauer hopes that the value of work for employees and the challenges for nursing home residents will also be factors in future employment levels.

“We have a group of people who have essentially no control over their own health and are being treated by people who have control over their own health,” Davis said. “I think it’s important that we look at the protection of individuals in a home.”

Sauer hopes federal officials approach meeting the upcoming vaccine mandate as an opportunity initially for education rather than punishment.

While the mandate affects nursing home staff and employees in certain other health sectors, there is no vaccine requirement for assisted living workers. Sauer notes that some operators have both options for long-term care on the same campus. He says the distinction in vaccine rules could put nursing home administrators at a disadvantage in trying to attract staff. “It takes a level playing field,” Sauer said.

Sauer says OSHA requirements will force an amended vaccine mandate on assisted living operations with a hundred or more employees. Workers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regularly scheduled tests for the virus.

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