Association representing Missouri nursing homes worried vaccine mandate will impact staffing

Regional News

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Missouri’s attorney general along with 10 other states are suing the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 employees.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt said this mandate affects more than 3,000 businesses in Missouri. His goal with the lawsuit is to stop the vaccine requirement.

The other side of the aisle is saying a mandate is what will get us back to normal.

“The way we do that is by getting everyone vaccinated,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis said. “If that takes a mandate at this point, I think a lot of folks are just ready for that.”

Roughly 50% of Missourians are fully vaccinated. In the past week, the Biden administration signed two executive orders for vaccine mandates, one for federally contracted employees, another for companies that have more than 100 workers.

“If we don’t push back, there’s not an end to this,” Schmitt said. “The federal government doesn’t have this power to force the vaccination of tens of millions of Americans.”

Schmitt, who is also running for U.S. Senate, filed a suit against both orders.

“Forcing people to inject a vaccine into their bodies, people can make their own decisions here,” Schmitt said.

Under the order signed earlier this week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates companies with more than 100 workers to require employees to get vaccinated. Failure to comply could result in nearly a $14,000 fine per violation. In his lawsuit, Schmitt was joined with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

He said this mandate affects more than 1 million workers in Missouri, including nursing home staff.

“The practical impact of it, if it were to go into effect, it has lots of people leaving the workplace,” Schmitt said.

Back in September, the Missouri Health Care Association (MHCA), which represents more than 65% of the state’s nursing care facilities, told lawmakers in a committee hearing, this mandate could be detrimental for staff.

In a statement, Executive Director for MHCA Nikki Strong said:

MHCA believes that the best way to keep our staff and residents safe is to have the highest possible rates of vaccinations of our residents, facility staff, and all those who enter our facilities. We remain committed to ensuring all residents and staff in our long-term care facilities become fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, vaccine hesitancy remains very high in Missouri. The latest data available from CMS as of October 17 indicates the vaccination rate of long-term care staff is 58.6 % which is in line with Missouri’s statewide average vaccination rate. Nursing home providers remain committed to increasing vaccination rates in our facilities through education and sensitivity around this divisive issue.

We are afraid that the direct consequence of this mandate will be the inability of our frail, elderly and disabled residents to access the long-term care services they require. COVID-19 has exacerbated the long-standing workforce challenges in nursing homes; therefore, even a small percentage of staff members leaving their jobs as a result of this mandate will have a disastrous impact on vulnerable seniors who require continuous – 24-hour daycare – in our facilities.

In Missouri, and across the country, access to long-term care is becoming more and more strained and providers have had no choice but to limit admissions or even close their doors due to workforce shortages. This mandate will only worsen this already dire situation. While our most vulnerable residents deserve full protection from the virus, they also deserve access to long-term care services.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) website, Missouri still has the lowest percentage of vaccinated staff working inside nursing homes in the country.

“We absolutely should be pushing for every safety precaution in places like that with our most vulnerable people and if we want to stem the loss of staff, we should be paying them what they deserve,” Merideth said. “There may be an additional impact of a very small percentage of them that we lose over this mandate, but is the solution to that not requiring our workers that are working directly with our most vulnerable people in our state not to have protections they need to keep everyone safe?”

More than 86% of residents inside nursing homes in Missouri are vaccinated according to CMS.

Merideth said he believes the mandate will help and wants to see leaders in Missouri work together to get past the pandemic.

“I think a whole lot more people are going to get vaccinated because of it,” Merideth said. “Mandate or no mandate, that should be what all focus as leaders are trying to get done, rather than fighting over the details of perpetuating myths and misinformation.”

The deadline for federally contracted employees to get vaccinated is Dec. 8. For individuals working at companies with more than 100 workers, it’s Jan. 4. Under the executive order, if a person is not vaccinated, he or she must test negative at least once a week.

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