As of August 18th, 89% of nursing home residents and 79% of staff are vaccinated against COVID-19 in Maryland.
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In many respects, Maryland’s vaccine rollout has been among the best in the country, both in terms of the community at large, but also among nursing home patients, residents, and staff.
According to DeMattos, vaccination success in Maryland can be attributed to partnerships between Governor Hogan, the Maryland Department of Health, and the men and women of the Maryland National Guard.
“If I had to advise a governor or a state government today on how they can achieve the types of results that we’ve achieved in Maryland, I would say the keys to success were having a plan with the State Administration, and having a ‘roll up your sleeves’ implementation partnership with the National Guard and with members of our sector. And, because we took a war room approach, and were adaptive in the plan as necessary.“
While Maryland has generally been successful in its vaccine rollout, there are some long term care facilities with 40-50% staff vaccination rates in the state, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health.
According to DeMattos, despite Maryland’s best efforts, there are still a handful of skilled nursing, rehab centers, and hospitals where the employees have been resistant to the vaccine.
13 out of the 15 nursing homes with the lowest vaccination rates for staff are located in rural parts of Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of Health. Most of these facilities fall in counties who also have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, such as Garrett, Allegany, and Washington counties.
“In terms of vaccinating the community at large, Maryland has an incredible success story to tell. At the same time, it is not surprising that the lowest vaccination rates in Maryland health care are rural hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living campuses, because of the extreme workforce shortages that they face in those communities.”
These workforce shortages make it harder for employers to implement vaccine mandates for their staff. With workforce demand far outpacing supply, a large portion of vaccine-hesitant employees would rather move to another care facility or to a new industry when faced with forced vaccinations, says DeMattos.
This leaves employers in a tight spot, says DeMattos. They need to keep their staff, but they also need to adhere to state and federal vaccine requirements.
The workforce shortage in health care — both in Maryland and across the country — is more dramatic in nursing homes and assisted living centers. It’s also exponentially worse in rural communities where employers struggle to compete in an already competitive market.
In rural communities they are struggling every single day to field their team, says DeMattos.
“If you were to ask a leader in a skilled nursing, rehab center or an assisted living, what keeps them up at night? That leader would say, workforce, workforce, workforce.”
According to DeMattos, from physician to nursing assistance, there was a shortage of professional caregivers before the pandemic, and it’s only gotten worse with COVID.