Should the Biden administration make good on its plan to require all nursing home staffers to be vaccinated for COVID-19, the mandate could make it even harder to find staffers for the Powell Valley …
Should the Biden administration make good on its plan to require all nursing home staffers to be vaccinated for COVID-19, the mandate could make it even harder to find staffers for the Powell Valley Care Center, facility leaders suggested Monday.
Last week, President Joe Biden said he intends to make nursing homes’ Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement funding dependent on staff-wide vaccinations.
“That’s good and bad,” Powell Valley Healthcare CEO Terry Odom said at a Monday meeting of the organization’s board of trustees. “… We do want our healthcare workers to provide a safe environment for our residents.”
However, Odom explained, as the provider struggles with staffing shortages at the care center, a vaccine mandate would only add to their struggle to reduce the facility’s high vacancy rate.
Odom said the long-term care staff has some of the lowest vaccination rates among the hospital’s various departments.
Sara Welling, quality improvement and risk management services director, said about 15% of the staffers at the Powell Valley Care Center had been vaccinated, whereas the rate for the entire PVHC staff is 35%. (Overall in Park County, the vaccination rate among adults stood at roughly 45.7%, according to Wyoming Department of Health data.) The care center resident vaccination rate is 85%.
Odom said the Wyoming Hospital Association and LeadingAge, a trade association for nonprofit aging healthcare providers, will be lobbying the Biden administration “about if this is really the right choice.”
“Vaccinations are a topic everywhere,” Odom said.
Odom said the hospital has never mandated the flu vaccine, and they usually have rates of 75% to 90%.
“We don’t want to have to mandate [the COVID vaccine],” Odom said, “but I think CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] will make us mandate it.”
PVHC Trustee Boni Katz pointed out that California Gov. Gavin Newsome implemented a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in that state. Katz said that was likely to lead to an even greater problem of nursing shortages there, which may give Biden pause on implementing the mandate.
“Maybe we can learn from California and find some workarounds and compromises,” Katz said.
However, if the Biden administration does implement the program, Odom said PVHC would have no choice but to comply.
“It’s not like we can just say we won’t take Medicare and Medicaid. We’re obligated,” Odom said.
If the mandate is implemented, PVHC Trustee R.J. Kost said he hoped the employees would understand it wasn’t the Powell organization’s doing.
“I struggle with mandates, because I think people need choices and consequences with those choices,” Kost said.
He said he’s spoken with Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ local field representative for help in communicating the Wyoming providers’ concerns with the mandate.
“We will lose people, and that concerns me,” Kost said, predicting that “the whole state” would lose healthcare workers if the vaccine becomes mandatory.
In the interest of safety for the residents, he proposed expanding COVID testing among the staff in lieu of a vaccine mandate.
PVHC COO Nicole Ostermiller said the care center had a weekly testing program, and there are parameters by which they’d reinstate the program, based on the rate of cases in the county. At the current level, Park County is in the yellow. When it rises higher into the red level, there would be testing of all care center staff. At yellow, they only test unvaccinated staff.
“So for the last three weeks, we have been doing testing,” Ostermiller said.
Positive cases among the staff — including a very recent case — also triggers weekly testing of all the workers at the care center.
Gathering the tests, labeling the samples, and shipping them off to be analyzed is very time consuming, Ostermiller said.
“It’s like anything with COVID: It’s very taxing on our resources,” the COO said.
However, Ostermiller said they’ll likely be dealing with the protocols for a while.