Mandates push more local health care workers to vaccination

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A small number of health care workers in local hospitals and nursing homes have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and have resigned their positions or faced suspension and termination. 

The state and federal mandates for healthcare and nursing home employees to be fully vaccinated helped push the number of vaccinated workers from 70% in June to the current high 90s. At Hartford HealthCare and elsewhere, there are still some holdouts, despite health care facilities implementing their own universal vaccination policies. 

“Currently, 97 percent of Hartford HealthCare full time/part time and per diem colleagues have received at least one vaccination (nearly 92 percent are fully vaccinated),” stated Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer at Hartford HealthCare. “We are hopeful that the 3 percent who are not yet engaged (683 people) will choose to be vaccinated on or before the September 30 deadline.”

Private healthcare providers set their own vaccination deadlines and policies, while the state which required all its workers to get their first shot by Monday. 

But under Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order, long term care facilities had to submit compliance reports to the state before noon today.  The state Department of Public Health will begin analyzing these reports this week and conduct follow-up investigations as necessary to confirm compliance with the order. 

The iCare Health Network, owner of Silver Springs nursing home in Meriden, also reported a high number of vaccinated workers, in part due to its vaccine clinics earlier in the year and in recent months. 

“Our partnership with Walgreens and the staff’s participation rates put us in a very good position and we were able to build on that,” said David Skoczulek, vice president of business development for iCare. “One hundred percent of our active employees are either vaccinated or have a valid medical or religious exemptions on hand at this time. We will not permit any staff member in an iCare center without a vaccine or exemption, so as a result we had some staff temporarily removed from the schedule until the requirements were met.”

The state has allowed religious and medical exemptions and iCare has made these exemptions available to staff as long as they provide the required documentation. iCare does not provide any other pathway to exemption, Skoczulek said. “Those with valid exemptions must receive periodic testing at a frequency dictated by the state although iCare reserves the right to have more frequent testing if indicated,” he said.

About 1 percent of the network’s workforce elected to resign their positions rather than be vaccinated. Some were simple delays in paperwork and iCare will return those individuals to full service as soon as they supply the necessary information.  

Staff shortages

Staffing challenges in long term care facilities were acute prior to COVID-19 and the vaccine mandates, leading to continued recruiting efforts for nursing and non-nursing positions, Skoczulek said.  

“Labor shortages are not new to the industry and certainly not a result of the mandate,” said Ann Collette, a spokeswoman for Masonicare. “Whether the mandate adds additional strain remains to be seen. Fortunately, the vast majority of dedicated team members at Masonicare chose to protect themselves, their families and their residents by getting vaccinated.”

Approximately 95% of all Masonicare employees are vaccinated, Collette said. Twenty-two employees, most of whom were per diem, are no longer with Masonicare after electing to forgo vaccination.

Testing of unvaccinated Masonicare employees is done per Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention guidelines and dependent on community transmission levels. Testing can be as often as twice per week. Currently, there are no COVID positive patients or residents in Masonicare communities, Collette said.

The Community Health Center Inc. reported that 98 percent of its employees are vaccinated or have a medical/religious exemption, a spokeswoman said. A majority of those remaining still need to get a second shot or are on leave. There have been no terminations, but weekly testing is required for those with exemptions. 

Gaylord Specialty Healthcare in Wallingford drafted its vaccination policy prior to the state mandate.

“It’s the right thing to do for our patients,” said Gaylord spokeswoman Joy Savulak, “Gaylord’s patients are among the most fragile population in the state with an average length of stay of 25 or more days. Our staff was very supportive of the vaccination policy with only a handful of staff choosing to leave.”

In order to meet its own expectations and those of the mandate, Gaylord made the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine available to staff who were hesitant about receiving either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Staff who received religious exemptions or medical deferments are subject to weekly COVID testing.

The union representing health care workers has backed the vaccination mandate for its members. 

“District 1199 New England is encouraging workers to get vaccinated against COVID since last December based on the advice and recommendation of experts,” Rob Baril, union president, said in a statement last month. “The vaccine is an essential tool to protect workers and the people we care for every day. The union is working with employers and with the state of Connecticut to make sure vaccination efforts are effective.”

President Joe Biden announced on Aug. 18 his goal of having fully vaccinated nursing home workers during the week of Sept. 20, with providers facing loss of Medicare and Medicaid funding.

The vaccinate-or-else potential loss of government funding would apply to nearly 15,000 nursing homes and 1.6 million workers, federal officials have said.

“All vaccines have proven to be safe and extremely effective at reducing serious illness and death,” said Kumar of Hartford HealthCare. “We have been working diligently to help our colleagues come to the decision that is right for them, and hope all of our colleagues make the choice to stay within our organization.”

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz


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