Low vaccination rates reported among staff at Illinois nursing homes

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(The Center Square) – A new study shows less than a quarter of Illinois nursing homes have met an industry benchmark of having at least 75% of staff fully vaccinated.

The latest release of the AARP Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard finds that just 22.6% of Illinois nursing homes have met the mark.

“It is alarming to know that nursing home residents that are living their remaining days at facilities in a congregate setting are being cared for by people who have chosen not to get vaccinated,” said Lori Hendren, associate Illinois director for advocacy and outreach for AARP.

Nursing homes faced a shocking mortality rate during the pandemic. In the U.S., COVID-19 is being blamed for more than 133,000 residents and nearly 2,000 staff members between June 1 and this past July 4, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports.

Nationally, Medicare estimates 59% of nursing home staff have received the shot compared to about 80% of residents. In Illinois, about 56% of staff and 79% of residents were fully vaccinated.

Some policy experts have asked the government to close the gap by demanding shots for nursing home staff. Nursing home operators may be hesitant that a move could backfire and are urging staff with vaccine problems to simply quit their jobs.

In the four-week period ending June 20, AARP found that 21% of nursing homes in Illinois had an urgent need for PPE. Also during this time period, 21% of nursing homes reported a shortage of nurses or aides.

LeadingAge, which runs long-term care facilities in Illinois, is urging all residents and staff to get vaccinated and is joining 57 other organizations calling for employer mandates of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Further, to protect the most vulnerable older adults from breakthrough cases and new COVID variants, LeadingAge supports requiring vaccines for current and new staff in long-term care and other healthcare settings,” it said in a statement. “As the most effective tool to protect from the virus, COVID-19 vaccination should be a condition of employment for all healthcare workers, including employees, contract staff and others, with appropriate exemptions for those with medical reasons or as specified by federal or state law.”

COVID-19 cases are now increasing in every state, with new hospitalizations and deaths almost entirely among the unvaccinated.

“We need to continue to be having conversations of why,” Hendren said. “They need to talk to their medical professional and get the right facts and get the right information.”

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