Nebraska nursing homes prep for vaccine order

State industry reacts to president’s announcement
Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 10:36 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Following President Biden’s call for 100% vaccination rates in the nation’s nursing homes and long-term health care facilities, Nebraska eldercare industry insiders are anxiously awaiting details of what that mandate may look like.

“My guess is a lot of this is unforeseen or unintended consequence with a well-meaning policy,” said Heath Boddy, President of the Nebraska Health Care Association. “I understand part of our way forward as a country is to get more people to vaccinate, I get that, but it just seems this is missing some components that could really help it be effective as they roll it out.”

Boddy points out that very few specifics, or exceptions, were offered at this week’s announcement from the White House. What is clear to those who oversee nursing home facilities like the Douglas County Health Center, is that they can’t afford to lose their federal funding.

“The final ruling of this we won’t know until the end of September, and what that does is establish the timeline,” said Douglas County Commission Chair Mary Ann Borgeson. “It also establishes which staff, so is it frontline staff or is it all staff, everyone that enters the building? We need to still find out.”

Biden’s plan, announced Wednesday, calls for a 100% vaccination rate in the nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Those who don’t comply face the loss of Medicare and Medicaid funds.

Earlier this year the industry set goals for 75% vaccination rates at nursing home facilities. AARP released recent updates showing both Iowa and Nebraska aren’t currently meeting that standard.

They called for both states to require vaccinations in their elder care facilities. AARP posts statistics on their website at their Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard.

“Listen, any sort of vaccine mandates are complicated and are very controversial as well and we understand that,” said AARP Nebraska State Director Todd Stubendieck.

”We applaud the administration’s decision because we believe anything that increases the vaccination rate at long-term care facilities is common sense and is going to take a big step in taking care of these vulnerable people who live in these residences.”

Boddy is hopeful the President will consider alternatives to the 100% mandate.

”Is there an opportunity to consider a path for team members, that for whatever reason choose not to vaccinate, with daily testing?” Boddy said. “Can the federal government fund testing if this is that important from a mandate perspective to allow that team member to not take the vaccine, but still insure the safety of that elder or senior living in the community?”

Being able to maintain staffing at nursing homes if a high vaccination mandate is implemented concerns Boddy as well.

”The initial concern stems just around workforce,” Boddy said. “Long-term care, senior living, was pressurized from a workforce perspective prior to the pandemic. The pandemic hasn’t helped.”

And those who run the facilities are trying to do the legwork to improve their vaccination rates now so that they can be better prepared for whatever the details of the order will look like.

”Our staff is about 80% vaccinated,” Borgeson said. “We’re very proud of that and we’ve worked very hard and we’re continuing to work to find out what the hesitancies are about not getting it and whether or not they’ve changed their minds to get it.”

There is one area that all parties in the industry seem to agree on. Protecting the elder community from COVID-19 should be a priority.

“These folks in these facilities were disproportionally impacted, ravaged by COVID the first time it came through,” Stubendieck said. ”Thirty-seven percent of Nebraska deaths occurred in long-term care facilities, while long-term residents represent less than one percent of our state’s population.”

“We want to make sure we don’t go back to that situation,” Stubendieck added. “These are our most vulnerable citizens and we should be taking all the steps possible to protect them.”

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