Health Secretary Schrader talks nursing home worker vaccinations

The Maryland Department of Health has released a list of nursing homes ranked by the percentage of staff who have received a COVID-19 vaccination. The list is derived from the Skilled Nursing Facilities Vaccination Dashboard which was launched on May 4 by the Maryland Department of Aging. 

State of Reform spoke with Maryland Department of Health Secretary Dennis Schrader about the list, and his desire to see vaccination rates among nursing home staff increase. 

 

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Aaron Kunkler: In May, Maryland started releasing lists of the top 10 nursing facilities with the greatest and least percentages of staff vaccinated. What is the current situation in terms of nursing home vaccinations?

 

Dennis Schrader: “We’ve got about 80% of the residents vaccinated, which is different than the staff. Were in the low 70s for nursing home staff, and overall, that would be fair. But the problem is there’s a wide variation among nursing homes all around the state. So we have many of them at 100%, high 90s, low 90s, and then we have people in the 40s and 50s. So that’s the problem, quite frankly. Part of the reason why we’re putting them in a top 10 and bottom 10 is that many institutions in the nursing home industry have done a very good job and they’re working hard, and they’re doing their best to reach high levels of staff vaccination. And others are just not getting it done, and that’s a problem.” 

 

AK: Are there ways to increase that vaccination rate? What are the barriers to folks getting vaccinated?

 

DS: “Well these are private businesses, and they have the authority to tell their workforce that they need to come to work vaccinated. And they have the ability — either working with us, or through their own devices — to get the vaccine and orient to their facility. So the challenge here is they just need to decide that they’re going to do it.”

 

AK: Are there any plans for a universal vaccination order for nurses or health care workers?

 

DS: “Not at the moment. Our vaccination rates overall are very, very high. Right now we’re at 79.4% of all adults 18 and over vaccinated. We’ve got 93.9% of all 65 and over vaccinated, and the 12 to 17 children we’re up to 62%. So we’re doing very well and we’re one of the leading states in the country. We just need to get the nursing home staff and health care staff. The hospitals have committed to getting their staff vaccinated over the fall, and they have some work to do. But the nursing homes had too much variability in their staff.”

 

AK: Have you seen an impact from releasing the lists?

 

DS: “We are putting metrics together. We’ve just started back in May… So we figured, let’s give everybody a chance to get organized and start moving along. There was a little forward motion. The problem now is the people in the bottom [of the list] just aren’t getting the job done. And we’ve got to really ask them to start stepping up.”

 

AK: In what ways are you considering asking or encouraging them to step up?

 

DS: “First, that is what we’re doing now. We’re talking to the media all over the state. And if you were to ask me what should a family do? I would say they ought to get the owner of the nursing home on the phone and ask them why they’re not vaccinated. They’re paying money to be there, they have a right to ask them to vaccinate their loved one.”

 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.