Care Providers Oklahoma Responds to President Joe Biden’s Nursing Home Vaccine Mandate
Published: August 25th, 2021
CapitolBeatOK Staff Report
Care Providers Oklahoma, the association representing Oklahoma’s skilled nursing professionals and residents, released the following statement in response to President Joe Biden’s announcement last week (https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/biden-harris-administration-takes-additional-action-protect-americas-nursing-home-residents-covid-19 ) that all skilled nursing staff must be vaccinated:
“Oklahoma’s skilled nursing facilities, through a combination of successful vaccination campaigns and rigorous safety protocols, are now clearly the safest places in Oklahoma for vulnerable seniors when it comes to COVID protection. In the week of August 8-14, for example, the state’s Epidemiology Report (https://oklahoma.gov/content/dam/ok/en/covid19/documents/weekly-epi-report/2021.08.18%20Weekly%20Epi%20Report.pdf ) indicates that skilled nursing and long-term care (LTC) settings had just 44 new COVID cases among residents across over 600 facilities, representing just .28% of the state’s total portion of new cases. That number has fallen precipitously since the last week of December 2020 (https://oklahoma.gov/content/dam/ok/en/covid19/documents/weekly-epi-report/2021.01.01%20Weekly%20Epi%20Report%20final.pdf ), when skilled nursing/LTC reported 443 new cases among residents, representing 2.4% of the state’s total caseload. As the Delta variant continues to explode across the state and country, Oklahoma nursing homes have largely kept COVID under control and offered the most successful protection to their residents available anywhere.
“For that reason, it is extremely frustrating and disappointing to see the Biden Administration single out nursing homes as the only health care provider facing a federal vaccination mandate. More importantly, this mandate will transform the current workforce shortage in the skilled nursing profession (where administrators report upwards of 20% of jobs are going unfilled) into an untenable crisis that could result in facility closures and the complete abandonment of vulnerable seniors.
“Today, approximately 49 percent of Oklahoma’s skilled nursing staff and 82 percent of our residents are full vaccinated, which significantly outpaces the state average of 42%. Our on-the-ground assessment is that a significant portion of the unvaccinated skilled nursing staff will refuse to be vaccinated and instead find other jobs. That is especially true given that the new mandate does not encompass other health care settings, including assisted living, hospice care, or hospitals, all of which compete with skilled nursing homes for staff.
“Because of legally required staff to resident ratios, facilities that lose significant amounts of staff will need to close their doors or evict residents. In either case, vulnerable seniors will be losing their homes. These seniors would normally be transferred to local hospitals. Given that local hospitals are full (mainly because of a surge of much younger COVID patients), it is unclear where these seniors would be discharged to or who would care for them.
“All of this suggests that President Biden’s new mandate is setting up the nursing home profession, vulnerable seniors, and the state of Oklahoma for an unprecedented catastrophe – worse, even, than the current danger of COVID, which is being successfully minimized in skilled nursing settings. If current workforce retention and recruitment does not improve, or if this mandate leads to rapid deterioration in the labor pool, skilled nursing facilities need state and federal assistance that must include:
• Loosening regulations governing staff qualifications and training, comparable to the provisions in Governor Kevin Stitt’s previous emergency declaration;
• Significant and sustained funding for vaccination bonuses and hazard pay bonuses allocated directly to staff; and
• Development of plans to deploy the National Guard to assist in staffing skilled nursing facilities if significant employee attrition occurs due to the president’s new mandate.
“President Biden’s plan for mandatory vaccination still needs to go through a rule-making process and there will be no required changes in Oklahoma nursing homes in the immediate future. Our hope is that this proposal is significantly altered as it goes through the normal rule-making process and bureaucratic vetting. In the meantime, Oklahoma’s skilled nursing facilities will continue to provide easy access to vaccines for both staff and residents, continue to implement pro-vaccine education campaigns, and continue to make significant investments in financial incentives and other rewards for vaccination.”