(The Center Square) – AARP Illinois said a directive from the White House requiring nursing homes to vaccinate their staff against COVID-19 or risk losing Medicaid and Medicare funding is an important step, but not everyone is on board.
President Joe Biden says his administration plans to issue new regulations through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the White House, the rules would apply to nearly 15,000 nursing home facilities, which employ approximately 1.6 million workers and serve about 1.3 million nursing home residents.
Some medical experts have asked the U.S. government to pressure nursing homes to vaccinate their staff, saying the unvaccinated employees put older residents, who are more likely to get severely ill or get breakthrough infection, at greater risk.
Lori Hendren, associate state director of Advocacy and Outreach for AARP Illinois, said about 26.3% Illinois nursing homes have achieved the 75% staff vaccination benchmark. In contrast, the nursing home residents they care for are vaccinated at a rate of 83.8%.
“With the news of the administration’s directive, this is an important step in closing this dangerous gap,” Hendren said.
In an industry already facing worker shortages, there are concerns that some may quit their job rather than get vaccinated.
Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living which represents over 14,000 facilities, said in a statement Biden’s directive falls short.
“We appreciate the Administration’s efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccinations in long term care. Unfortunately this action doesn’t go far enough. The government should not single out one provider group for mandatory vaccinations. Vaccination mandates for health care personnel should be applied to all health care settings, Without this, nursing homes face a disastrous workforce challenge.”
“Focusing only on nursing homes will cause vaccine hesitant workers to flee to other health care providers and lave many centers without adequate staff to care for residents,” the statement said.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced earlier this month that his administration would require all employees of state-operated nursing homes to be vaccinated by Oct. 4.
This has caused some push back from unions. A statement from AFSCME Council 31 said they oppose “rigid, universal vaccine mandates that effectively threaten employees with termination if they do not get vaccinated.”