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Are mandatory vaccines headed to long-term care facilities?

Low staff vaccination rates and high staff infection rates may push facilities over the edge
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine
Posted at 3:53 PM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 23:42:02-04

It’s a move most of Florida’s long-term care centers haven’t wanted to make but with low numbers of vaccinated staff posing high risk of infections to residents, more long-term care centers are finding themselves ready to require the COVID-19 shot, according to Florida’s Senior Living Association.

“Some of our communities want to mandate vaccines for staff and residents,” said executive director Gail Matillo.

Earlier this week, a provision quietly added to the state’s emergency management bill could give long-term care centers the push they need to do it.

If approved, health care providers including long-term care facilities, would be exempt from the Governor’s ban on vaccine passports. In other words, facilities will be able to decide for themselves if vaccination proof is necessary and if mandated vaccines become the new rule inside.

“Our communities have worked terribly hard over the last year to protect our communities,” said Jason Hand also with Florida’s Senior Living Association, the state’s top association for assisted living facilities. “Some communities see the vaccine as a good thing and they want to protect that bubble. Every protection, every shield they want to have in place,” he said.

Advocate Mary Daniel believes mandatory vaccinations are inevitable in Florida’s long-term care industry. Daniels made headlines last year when she took a job as a dishwasher just so she could see her husband after the virus forced long-term care centers to shut down. While her husband’s facility in Jacksonville has 100% of its staff and residents vaccinated by their own choice, she’s concerned about other facilities where staff vaccination rates are low and infection rates among staff are now surpassing cases involving residents.

In addition, she said, some long-term care centers are still limiting or shutting down visitation if there’s a positive case in the facility.

“These residents are being punished because of the decision of others. I believe there are people like me who will say I’m not going to do business with a company that’s not going to allow me in based on the decisions they’ve made with their staff. I think that will be the driving force,” she said. “

But many long-term care centers are doing everything they can to stay away from making vaccines mandatory.

“We don’t believe in making vaccines mandatory on people,” said Jennifer McConnell of Grand Villa which has 18 assisted living facilities in Florida.

The company recently shared with us its struggles to get more of its staff vaccinated. Despite offering employees gift cards, education, prizes, and bonuses if they take the vaccination, roughly 70% of Grand Villa employees have yet to roll up their sleeves. Still, the company isn’t ready to impose mandatory vaccinations.

“We just don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” said McConnell.

Low pay and high employee turnover remain an industrywide problem and among the top reasons facilities have frowned on forcing shots, that is, as long as they can afford to offer the choice.

“The bottom line is if you care about these people, you’re in this industry because you care and you want to take care of this elderly population, then you can’t do that without a vaccine,” said Daniel.