Nursing homes step up vaccinations ahead of warrants | New

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BOSTON – Massachusetts nursing homes are stepping up efforts to have their staff vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of federal and state mandates.

Governor Charlie Baker announced in August that the state would require staff in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospice programs to be fully immunized by October 10 or face disciplinary action, including dismissal, unless he has obtained a medical or religious exemption. .

Baker’s mandate covers at least 62 state-approved nursing homes, 85 palliative care programs and 268 assisted living homes, according to the administration.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has ordered new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans – private sector employees as well as federal health workers and contractors – in a major effort to curb the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

His plan will also require immunization of about 17 million healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.

The latest data shows Massachusetts is moving ever closer to mandates, with some of the highest nursing home staff immunization rates in the country.

As of September 20, an average of 89% of staff in skilled nursing facilities were fully immunized, according to the Executive Office of Health and Social Services. That’s a 3% increase from the previous week and 7% since last month, the agency said.

When Baker rolled out his mandate in August, nearly half of the state’s skilled nursing facilities had less than 75% of their staff fully immunized.

Yet immunization data compiled by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is several weeks behind schedule, shows some Massachusetts healthcare facilities with less than 75% of staff fully immunized as of September 5 – below 81% state average at the time.

Alliance Health in Rosewood, a 135-bed facility in Peabody, had reported that 65.3% of its staff were fully vaccinated as of September 5 and more than 99% of its residents had been vaccinated.

At Lawrence’s Mary Immaculate Nursing and Restorative Center, only 77.2% of staff were fully immunized as of September 5, while nearly 95% of residents were vaccinated.

Sea View Skilled Nursing & Rehab Services in Rowley had only 77% of its staff fully immunized as of September 5, according to federal data.

Sea View owner Steve Comley recently threatened to shut down the facility rather than force around 50 employees who refuse to be vaccinated to be vaccinated. Comley tore up Baker’s tenure as “government overtaking” and said he didn’t think he had the right to force employees to get vaccinated.

To be sure, the averages reported by federal health officials have likely risen, as many intensive care facilities step up efforts to get all their staff vaccinated as the October 10 deadline approaches.

Most healthcare providers have set their own policies on immunizations and exemptions as part of an effort to meet their obligations under the new requirements.

Mike Bell, president of Penacook Place in Haverhill, said nearly 97% of the staff at the 160-bed nursing facility are fully immunized. Its four staff members were granted exemptions.

“We were one of the first facilities in this region to start the vaccination process, so we had a head start,” he said. “We had a conversation with our staff to let them know we had no choice, and we wanted them to stay and continue to be part of our team, but in order to do that they would have to be vaccinated.”

Bell said there had not been much reluctance on the part of staff to be vaccinated, and so far no one has waived this requirement.

“Some of our sister facilities are struggling to get their staff members fully immunized, but we’re doing very well here,” he said.

Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, a group that represents nearly 400 facilities, said the industry supports mandates for all healthcare workers as “a critical step toward protecting our vulnerable residents and our dedicated staff against COVID-19 infections. . “

“We are very encouraged that the most recent reports show that 92% of staff in healthcare facilities have received their first dose of the vaccine, and we expect that number to increase in the coming weeks,” he said. she declared.

“This is a testament to the hard work of nursing facility staff who come together to ensure the safety and well-being of their residents, each other and their families,” she added.

Massachusetts was hit hard at the start of the pandemic. Nursing and assisted living facilities have been the center of the deadly spread of the virus across the state.

According to state data, about 30% of COVID-19-related deaths last year were among residents of nursing homes. Nationally, about a quarter of deaths from the country’s pandemic have been in nursing homes.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the websites of the North of Boston Media Group. Email him at [email protected]


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