Health care leaders are concerned a federal vaccination requirement for nursing home workers could exacerbate staffing shortages, at a time when Florida’s nursing homes are already dealing with some of the nation’s highest COVID cases among their staff.
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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Wednesday it will release a federal emergency regulation that will require staff vaccinations at Medicare and Medicaid-participating nursing homes. The mandate will affect an estimated 15,000 nursing homes nationwide.
On the same day of the CMS announcement, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) posted a response calling for similar vaccine mandates for other health care provider groups, not just nursing homes. Mark Parkinson, AHCA/NCAL president and CEO said in the statement:
“Focusing only on nursing homes will cause vaccine hesitant workers to flee to other health care providers and leave many centers without adequate staff to care for residents. It will make an already difficult workforce shortage even worse. The net effect of this action will be the opposite of its intent and will affect the ability to provide quality care to our residents.”
Governor Ron DeSantis also voiced concerns the mandate would have on Florida’s nursing home workforce. In an appearance in Volusia County, he said:
“The issue’s going to be, what’s that going to do to the staffing? They’re already short-staffed. And there’s a lot of people that feel strongly against being mandated, that they think it should be something that they choose and they may have reasons why they make different choices. So I don’t know how it’s going to work. And I think that there’s going to be a concern among these institutions about maintaining all the staff.”
Florida led the nation in new COVID cases among nursing home staff (40.3% as of Aug. 12) while also having the second-lowest vaccination rates among these staff (45.1%), according to the AARP Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard. The report also showed Florida ranking low in terms of staffing shortages, with 17.8% understaffed facilities (compared to 23.7% nationally).
AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson says the focus on improving COVID rates and staffing shortages in nursing homes should be more systemic and long-term:
“About a third of fatalities that occur of COVID happened in long term care facilities in Florida. We thought it would be an opportunity for the state to really rethink how we do long term care, not only in terms of that rebalancing, but also in terms of how we design facilities and design staffing models and making sure that we have really strong, if nothing else, infection control in these places.”
CMS says it will continue to analyze CDC data and work with Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs) to “educate and engage” nursing homes with lower vaccination rates. CMS plans to release the new staff vaccination requirement in September, and expects facilities to “act in the best interest of residents and their staff by complying with these new rules.”