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'It's a lose-lose': Planned vaccine mandate for nursing home employees causes concerns

Posted at 4:23 PM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 19:30:15-04

Most long-term care facilities in Northeast Wisconsin don't require employees to be vaccinated against COIVD-19, but it's likely they won't have an option soon.

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday he's directing the Department of Health and Human Services to create new regulations that would make COVID-19 vaccination for staff a required condition for nursing homes to participate in Medicare and Medicaid. This measure could impact more than 15,000 nursing homes nation-wide.

“If it is mandated and the consequences for failure to comply is loss of revenue, we don’t have a choice," said Charlene Everett, the CEO of Odd Fellow Home in Green Bay. "Our choice has been taken away from us by a very powerful motivator, which is wage.”

According to federal data, hundreds of nursing home employees in Northeast Wisconsin are not fully vaccinated.

Covid-19 Nursing Home Resid... by Matt Jarchow

The report shows 72 percent of Odd Fellow's 115 employees are fully vaccinated.

Everett said administration worked hard to keep all their staff employed through the pandemic, despite dealing with a lower census due to previous COVID restrictions.

If nursing homes are required to enforce a vaccine mandate, Everett said she's concerned about the potential for major staffing shortages.

"I believe that countywide, nationally, people will leave healthcare because they choose to not be vaccinated. So that's the first issue. Now how do we take care of the people that we all treasure so much? The other thing is if we defy the mandated law, we lose our funding. So if we lose our funding, how do we pay the people that are committed to staying? It is a lose-lose," Everett said. "I believe in the vaccine. I think it is very important. I think it's extremely important for healthcare providers and workers to be vaccinated, but I believe more strongly in the human right to say yes or no."

Everett said the long-term care facility would only last a few months without federal and state reimbursements.

Meanwhile Sondra Norder, president & CEO of St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna, said the facility is now requiring all employees to be vaccinated.

“We weighed out the pros and cons and decided this was the best decision," Norder said.

In a Facebook post from Aug. 12 the facility details what was behind the decision, saying St. Paul Elder Services and McCormick Assisted Living had large outbreaks of COVID-19 at the end of 2020 that was traced back to staff. These outbreaks resulted in the deaths of 31 people in their care and dozens of infections among staff.

Norder said they anticipate losing about 5 percent of staff. Federal data shows about 84 percent of employees at St. Paul Elder Services have completed the vaccine series.

Elsewhere, the Brown County Community Treatment Center - Bayshore Village Nursing Home, which is owned by the county, is waiting for official regulations to be released.

"When a regulation is released, Brown County will determine the appropriate steps to take to be in compliance with the regulation, and provide a safe environment for residents of our nursing home."
Erik Pritzl, Brown County Health & Human Services executive director

Federal measures could be in place as soon as September.