ALBANY — Nearly one in five nursing home staffers are still refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine despite a state mandate to get a first shot by Sept. 27 in facilities that house frail elderly residents most vulnerable to the deadly disease.
Despite the mandate, 18 percent are still refusing to get the vaccination, according to the state Health Department, as die-hard resistance from employees remains even with the threat of potential disciplinary action, including firing by employers.
The order issued by the state Health Department Aug. 16 requires all long-term care and hospital workers to get vaccinated and also permits employers to fire those who refuse the order.
As of Monday, just 82 percent of all elder-care facility workers in the Empire State’s 613 homes had received one or two shots — worrying nursing home operators that if they can’t close the gap and meet 100 percent vaccination levels then some homes will see worker shortages.
Brooklyn has the lowest staff vaccination rate among the five boroughs, at 77 percent, but some New York City homes are recording numbers far below that figure, according to the DOH.
- At the Schulman & Schachne Nursing Home in Brooklyn, 49.9 percent of staffers have received least one shot and 46.4% have received one or both shots to complete their series.
- 65.3 percent of staff have received at least one dose at the Brooklyn-Queens Nursing Home, in Brooklyn, and 55.7 percent have completed their vaccination series.
- At the Buena Vida Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Brooklyn, 59.8 percent have had at least one jab, and 58.5 percent have finished their one or two shot series.
- Hopkins Center for Rehab and Health Care, Brooklyn, 60.1 percent of workers received at least one, and 56.4 percent have completed their series.
- At the Saint Joachim & Ann Nursing Home, Brooklyn, 56 percent of staffers have had at least one shot and 51.6 percent have been fully vaccinated.
However, the mandate appears to have prodded some workers to get their shots because the vaccination rate has improved since the rule was first announced mid-August.
Staff vaccination levels did jump statewide by 5 percent between Aug. 15 and Sept. 5t — from a 70.1 percent to 75.5 percent combined partial and full-rate, according to DOH data.
That number grew by another 5 percent between Sept. 5 and Sept. 15, hitting 80 percent total.
“[The DOH] set an unrealistic goal, given how far they had to go and how reluctant these people had shown to be about getting the shot. Based on those numbers, it looks like the pace of vaccinations has picked up significantly over the past two weeks. That still leaves 18 percent of the nursing home workforce to get their first shots in just one week,” Bill Hammond, the Empire Center for Public Policy’s senior fellow for health policy, told The Post.
“This is a group that has been very hesitant so far, and changing their minds could be a challenge. Unless the state softens its mandate — or the courts suspend it — nursing home operators are right to be worried about the danger of staff shortages.”
Nursing home staffers were among those first in line to get the life-saving shot last December — as over 15,000 residents died since March 2020 from the coronavirus — but facility administrators and 1199 SEIU, the union representing the majority of the workers, have had trouble convincing hesitant individuals.
In many facilities, the resident vaccination rate has been much higher compared to that of the workers who care for them.
Steve Hanse, president & CEO of New York State Health Facilities Association which represents nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, says the ultimate goal is hitting 100 percent but DOH should be more flexible, similar to the state’s policy governing school employees.
“If we do not have 100 percent vaccination rate, and as a consequence, employees are forced to leave their jobs in the middle of a long-term care workforce crisis, Plan B should be to authorize, at least on a temporary basis, a regular COVID-19 testing option for health care workers, similar to what the State has authorized for teachers,” he said.
Jim Clyne, who heads LeadingAge NY which represents non-profit senior living facilities, noted some homes are posting vaccination figures far below the statewide average and also favors the test option.
“For those facilities that are having true staffing issues, I think it would be wise to have a time-limited, test-out option for facilities that are having trouble maintaining staffing,” he said.
“It allows some of the people reluctant to get vaccinated more time and it would allow facilities more time to maybe recruit and get access to staffers willing to get the vaccinations. The reality is, if you have a building full of people in need of care you have to figure out a way to provide [that] care for them,” he added.
Presently, 89 percent of residents across the state have started or completed their vaccination series.
“As we’ve previously said, the Department is aware of potential staffing concerns. However, our overriding focus is the protection of patients and residents in our healthcare settings,” said DOH spokesman Jeffery Hammond.
“This is why everyone who is medically able should be vaccinated, especially healthcare workers who interact and care for our most vulnerable at risk New Yorkers. The Department will listen to any and all input that helps to advance the goal of protecting patients, visitors, the public and health care workers.”
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