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Families frustrated by low vaccination rate among veterans home staff

Published: Apr. 5, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT
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BENNINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A family is speaking out after the state confirmed that fewer than 50% of the patient-facing care staff at the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“If something were to happen to him right now, I would be heartbroken. It would devastate me because I feel like I’ve let him down,” said Kevin Buchanan, who is his father’s guardian.

Buchanan has not been face to face with his father in the Vermont Veterans Home since October.

This week, the state reported that only 40% of the Bennington home’s patient-facing direct care staff has been vaccinated, while 95% of the residents have gotten the vaccine.

“The thing that really hurts the most was if people have the opportunity to get the vaccination and they’re not and they’re still working with our loved ones, that’s a concern,” Buchanan said.

Melissa Jackson, the CEO of the veterans home, says she understands the frustration of family members. When a staff member tests positive, the specific neighborhood that they worked on gets quarantined for seven days, and then residents and members need negative PCR tests in order to be opened up again for visits.

“My employees work very hard every day. They have been on the spot since day one of this pandemic, rolling with every regulatory change, every change in PPE and they have a right to choose. Do I wish they were vaccinated? Yes, but that’s their choice and I respect that,” Jackson said.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has already held one virtual town meeting to help educate staff who do not want to get the vaccine. From that, 10 more were vaccinated. They intend to hold another one.

“We really want to get an idea of where we can help them make inroads if they’ve been hesitant why, and through education and responding to their specific needs can we move them forward,” Levine said.

With warmer weather coming, Buchanan will hopefully be able to see his father outside this week.

“Going forward that’s the hopes, that we can get outside to see him. I have plans to see him this week for the first time in a long time,” he said.

And if more staff members choose to be vaccinated, the Bennington rescue squad says it will come straight to the facility with vaccine to make that happen for them.

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