TAMPA, Fla. — While the COVID19 vaccine rollout continues across the country, efforts to get shots in arms in long-term care facilities across Florida continue, too.
A vaccination confidence initiative is launching thanks to FMDA The Florida Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.
“We want the individuals in our nursing facilities to understand they’re part of our healthcare team, wherever you’re working in that building you’re still part of the healthcare team and we need you to be vaccinated so not only you keep yourself safe but you keep others safe,” said the organization’s board Vice President Dr. Diane Sanders-Cepeda.
They’re focusing on skilled nursing facilities with the lowest staff vaccination rates by engaging virtually and in person, through discussion, education and testimonials from clinicians across the state. The group said state data shows more than 59,000 skilled nursing facility staff have not been vaccinated.
“We want to see that number approach over 70 and 80% if possible. We know that we can get to that number because we’ve done it in several facilities across the state but there are still just pockets of facilities scattered across our state that we need to make an impact in,” said Sanders-Cepeda.
ABC Action News has been following the vaccination rates at long-term care facilities. While many residents are vaccinated, staff vaccination rates contrast.
On March 16, 35.15% of current nursing home staff and 39.67% of current assisted living facility staff had received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Agency for Health Care Administration. On April 14, state data showed rates at 40.13% and 43.36% respectively. On June 1, AHCA reported 41.67% of current nursing home staff and 44.01% of current assisted living facility staff received the vaccine.
The state noted the numbers of residents and staff change frequently, and that the information is self-reported from facilities.
“We’re never gonna get back to normal if we don’t have the staff getting the vaccines like the residents are,” said Mary Daniel.
Daniel founded the group Caregivers for Compromise, helping advocate for families throughout the pandemic. She pointed in part to the turnover of staff.
“You can’t care for the elderly the most vulnerable population, that’s why we did the lockdown in the first place at these facilities, you can’t care for them when you’re at risk for bringing the virus into the facility. It’s not fair they’ve done everything they’re supposed to do,” Daniel said.
Meanwhile, as Florida moves to the next phase of its COVID19 response, the state said it notified health care facilities they are no longer required to report information to the Emergency Status System. That means the hospital capacity dashboard and long-term care facility report are no longer produced.
The agency stated:
“The data is clear that Florida’s health care facilities are well-positioned to transition to pre-pandemic activities. Florida saw a 41% decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last 30 days (since May 5). As of June 4, 0.12% of nursing home and assisted living residents were COVID positive. There was a 50% decrease in COVID positive residents in SNFs and ALFs the last 30 days (since May 5).”
“The emergency status system reporting was really an additional reporting requirement for facilities. So this actually gives them a little bit relaxation of that burden,” said Kristen Knapp, the director of communications for the Florida Health Care Association.
Knapp said nursing facilities still have federal reporting requirements, which starting Monday includes information on vaccine education.
“They’re gonna be tracking the educational component. What we’re doing to make sure we’re giving information to staff and residents, policies and procedures that facilities have in place for education and offering the vaccine and giving people information about it and then even re-educating staff who may have declined that vaccination initially,” said Knapp.
In the meantime, she said it’s important people understand nursing homes are still working to battle the pandemic with PPE, testing and screening.
“I think the reality is we care for a very vulnerable population so for us everything and anything we can do to make sure they’re safe and protected, and that includes getting people vaccinated,” said Knapp.