Nursing home staff vaccination mandate could cause ‘workforce disaster’

MINT HILL, N.C. — President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he’ll require everyone who works in a nursing home to get the COVID-19 vaccine. If some workers refuse, the facility will lose federal Medicare and Medicaid money.

Greg Forsey, with Spartanburg-based White Oak Manor, said they are encouraging employees in all of their facilities in the Carolinas to get vaccinated. He sent Channel 9 the following comment on Thursday:

“We would like to echo the words of President and CEO of the American Health Care Association, Mark Parkinson that ‘nursing homes will face a disastrous workforce challenge if these mandates do not apply to all healthcare settings.’”

The concern is that if the mandate only applies to nursing homes, health care workers who don’t want the vaccine will leave and work in other health-related fields. That could leave some places so short staffed that they can’t provide proper care.

Only two weeks ago, Mint Hill Senior Living had to once again halt visitation as COVID-19 cases surge. However, the entire staff of 33 is vaccinated.

Executive director Imari Littman got the shot first, so her staff members would see it’s safe. She said it still took some arm-twisting to get everyone on board.

“I’m not going to say that it was easy. There definitely was a lot of incentives put into place and giveaways,” she said.

Nationally, 60% of nursing home workers are vaccinated, while 40% are not. Locally, we found much lower numbers than that. Here are some places in and around Charlotte with below average vaccination levels for longterm care facility staff:

  • Jesse Helms Nursing Center in Monroe -- 34%
  • Clear Creek Nursing and Reb Center in Charlotte -- 39%
  • Brookdale Carriage Club in Charlotte -- 5.7%
  • Lancaster Convalescent Center in Lancaster -- 39%
  • Magnolia Manor in Rock Hill -- 36%

Late Thursday, the AARP released a statement concerned about the vaccination rate in South Carolina being well below the national average.

“Vaccination rates remained about the same and remain low compared to goals at around 78.5% among residents and 51.6% among staff. Less than one-tenth of nursing homes had at least 75% of staff vaccinated, which is the benchmark goal the industry has set for vaccinations in facilities,” the statement said.

In Mint Hill, Littman is trying to hire nearly a dozen more people. She’s worried about the staffing challenge, even without a vaccine mandate. She’s trying to hire enough people to be able to take care of the workers she has.

“I want my employees to be able to take vacations and get that breather that they need because it’s just been a consistent year and a half of this, and we all are very tired,” she said.

The specifics of Biden’s plan haven’t come down yet from the Department of Health and Human Services. There’s sort of a wait-and-see approach at many nursing homes until they have more information moving forward. However, they are encouraging their staff members to get the shot.

(WATCH BELOW: Biden administration to require nursing home staff get COVID-19 vaccine)