by J.D. Davidson
President Joe Biden’s plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for nursing home employees could damage further an industry struggling in Ohio, the executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association said.
Pete Van Runkle said the group is pro-vaccine but a federal mandate negatively could affect services to some of the most needy people in the state and be damaging to skilled nursing facilities.
“We believe the Biden Administration’s plan, at least articulated in the press conference, would be devastating to Ohio SNFs and to their staff and residents,” Van Runkle said. “While we support vaccination and recognize that it is the most effective defense against COVID-19, the proposed mandate does not account for staffing that is already stretched beyond the breaking point.”
During a speech last week, Biden said the current state of coronavirus in the nation is a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” giving reassurance to fully vaccinated Americans. He also touted increased vaccination numbers in recent weeks.
Biden also announced a vaccine mandate for employees of nursing homes under his jurisdiction.
“If you work in a [federally funded] nursing home and serve those on Medicare and Medicaid, you will be required to get vaccinated,” Biden said. “With this announcement, I am using the power of the federal government as a payer of health care costs to reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors.”
Van Runkle said the most-recent National Healthcare Safety Network data showed 46% of the staff in the average skilled nursing facility was unvaccinated. A Scripps Gerontology Center survey also found the average skilled nursing facility in Ohio has 19 open positions.
“Many of these unvaccinated staff members are strongly opposed to being vaccinated and are unlikely to respond positively to a mandate, placing the facility in the untenable position of choosing between losing staff or facing federal penalties,” Van Runkle said. “It is the patients who will suffer under the mandate because there will not be enough staff to provide them with the quality care or their facility will have to close for lack of staff.”
The requirement likely will go into effect in September, and Van Runkle hopes the regulation can be developed to ease what he fears could create a strong negative effect throughout the state.
“We also recognize that the rule is not written yet. Hopefully, it can be crafted in a way that mitigates the severe damage a mandate could do,” Van Runkle said.
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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. He is regional editor for The Center Square.