Long term care bracing for vaccine mandate

Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 9:28 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Long term care in North Dakota is in a bind. The industry is losing staff to COVID, and might lose them permanently to a vaccine mandate.

Meanwhile, the spike in cases they were expecting has come, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

There have been no changes in visitation guidance since May, but a possible vaccine mandate could come any day now.

It was one of the most contentious debates of 2020: long term care’s handling of COVID-19.

“Who would’ve thought 18 months we’d still be talking about it? We have some good news and some troubling news,” said Shelly Peterson, Long Term Care Association president.

Residents were among the first to get the vaccine, and are 93% vaccinated.

Among the workers, it’s 66%.

In June, there were only three active COVID cases in all of long term care.

After three months, there are now 84 active cases in 48 facilities. 72 of those cases are staff members.

And most THOSE cases are among unvaccinated workers.

“We pride ourselves on a five-star quality care. That can’t be achieved with a staffing shortage greater than what we have right now,” said Chris Larson of the Reuniting Residents and Families Task Force.

Now, facilities are being warned about a vaccine mandate for workers coming from Washington, D.C.

Providers say they’re already in a worker shortage. But a new mandate may cause more to walk out the door.

“Staff know that when they make that decision, that they’re valued. They’re needed. It’s difficult. They make a difference every day in the lives of their residents. This decision is not taken lightly,” said Peterson.

While many try to fight back against a mandate, management is still hoping they won’t lose as many as they expect.

Another repercussion of a mandate is on the finances. Many facilities are already struggling financially, and are worried they won’t be able to survive a penalty or increase in pay to incentivize new workers to fill those worker gaps.

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