Pennsylvania this week set an Oct. 1 target for 80% of nursing home staff to become fully vaccinated.
It’s a goal that just 12.5% of the state’s skilled nursing facilities have reached, so far, said Department of Health Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter.
“As COVID-19 cases rise, we are committed to helping prevent outbreaks by stopping COVID-19 from entering a nursing home in the first place, and one of the best ways we can do this is through vaccinating staff in skilled nursing facilities,” she said. “Getting 80% of nursing home staff vaccinated is aggressive, but achievable.”
Those unable to meet the target must submit their employees to more frequent testing, the department said. “Appropriate regulatory action” will follow if facilities don’t comply.
About 72,000 residents live in 692 state-run nursing homes. Anne Henry, LeadingAgePA’s senior vice president and chief government affairs officer, said all members are “strongly encouraged” to mandate vaccinations for staff.
The organization represents more than 380 nonprofit long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania.
“The safety and care of all residents and staff in member communities remains LeadingAge PA’s top priority,” she said. “And we are committed to providing members with the resources and information they need to educate staff and community members about the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
About one-third of the Pennsylvania’s nearly 28,000 COVID-19 deaths occurred inside nursing homes. Many more residents died at hospitals, and seniors aged 65 and older represent about 86% of the state’s virus fatalities in total, state data shows.
“We have an ethical imperative to do this,” said Margaret Barajas, the state long-term care ombudsman. “They’re counting on us.”
The Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents 400 nonprofit and for-profit long-term care facilities, said it’s just another unfunded mandate handed down from the state with little regard for the additional burden it will cause.
“Working with providers – not punishing them – will produce better outcomes,” said Zach Shamberg, the association’s CEO. “Providers know their workers best.”
He pointed to a Sept. 2, 2020, directive from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that require workers to test on a monthly, weekly or biweekly basis, depending on county positivity rates.
“We remain committed to supporting and empowering nursing homes throughout the commonwealth to make the decision that is in the best interest of their caregivers and the residents they serve,” he said.