Vt. nursing home expresses concern over staff vaccination mandate

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 4:51 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - In an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the federal government is mandating all staff at federally-funded long-term care facilities to get vaccinated. Many Vermont operators don’t have a problem with the new mandate because vaccination rates are so high already, but some worry it will impact hiring.

With 85 of Vermont’s 268 COVID-related deaths connected to long-term care facilities, doctors say having everyone vaccinated protects everyone within a facility. “These workers go home, they interact with the community, they could easily pick up the delta variant of the COVID virus, and they can be asymptomatic,” said Dr. Michael Rousse, the chief medical officer at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury.

Federal data shows that Vermont is ranked fifth in the nation for nursing home staff being vaccinated, with just under 80%. Some homes are well over 90% while at least one is below 60%.

At Crescent Manor Rehabilitation Center in Bennington, administrator Michael Rivers says 75% of his 100 staff members are vaccinated. Eighteen months into the pandemic, he says they haven’t seen a single COVID case among staff or residents. While he has encouraged his staff to get the shot, he also worries that a mandate will mean some will quit, or he’ll have to fire some. “I will lose staff if they make it a mandate. I will lose staff, there’s no question about it. I don’t know of any nursing home that can afford to lose staff in this day and age,” he said.

Vaccine mandates have become a controversial issue, a flashpoint debate between personal choice and public health. Dr. Rousse, however, says the conversation is different in medical settings like hospitals and nursing homes. “The patient expects that we’re all vaccinated and protected if we’re working in health care. When you come see a doctor or a provider, you want to feel safe and you want to be sure you won’t catch anything from that provider you’re seeing,” he said.

It’s not clear yet what the deadline is for nursing home staff to be fully vaccinated in order to continue receiving funding.

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