On August 18, President Joe Biden announced that he is directing all nursing homes to vaccinate their staff against COVID-19, to continue receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding. As CNN reports, this new mandate was triggered by the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, which now accounts for 99% of the coronavirus cases in the US. This decision marks the first time President Biden has threatened to withhold federal funds to get more people vaccinated.

Data shows a strong link between low vaccination rates in certain nursing homes and the rising number of coronavirus cases among its residents, especially as these occur in facilities with low staff vaccination rates. Oklahoma recorded 2,122 new cases on a seven-day average with 19,352 active cases, as reported in our recent Situation Update: COVID-19 post. So what would this new mandate look like for our nursing home workers?

Implications of President Biden’s New Mandate

For many senior citizens, choosing to receive care from a hospice, nursing home, or assisted living facility is too costly to pay the full expense out-of-pocket. According to an article on SymptomFind, patients and residents who are older than 65 years old should receive Medicare insurance benefits, specifically Medicare Part A (Hospitalization Insurance) — which include a Medicare Hospice benefit to cover care costs. People with a low income or minimal resources may also qualify for Medicaid insurance benefits to help them pay for care services, although eligibility varies by state.

Without Medicaid and Medicare funding, nursing homes would be unable to provide care for the nation’s vulnerable older adults. It’s been especially difficult in the past year, as more than half of nursing home and assisted living providers have lost key workers due to staff quitting. Over 90% of nursing homes and 80% of assisted living communities all over the country have reported staff shortages; most of these facilities struggled to stay afloat as occupancy rates hit record lows last year, leading to revenue decline. This makes federal funding critical to the survival of 15,000 nursing homes that benefit from Medicare and Medicaid, which employ a total of 1.3 million healthcare workers.

In Oklahoma, there are more than 600 long-term care facilities, with nearly 300 of those being nursing homes. In our article on Oklahoma’s Nursing Home Workers, we reported that while 81% of nursing home residents are fully vaccinated, only 49% of nursing home healthcare workers in the state have received the vaccine. Nationally, around 60% of nursing home staff are fully vaccinated. For the nursing home industry, President Biden’s mandate may cause vaccine-resistant workers to trade their nursing home job for other facilities that do not require vaccination. They believe that this ultimatum should be posted on all healthcare facilities receiving federal dollars.

Vaccine Advocate: A New Role for Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare professionals play a key role in promoting vaccination, but their own vaccine-hesitancy must be addressed to mitigate occupational harm and eventually achieve herd immunity. When talking to someone who is vaccine-hesitant, it helps to discern where their fears are coming from and address these concerns.

For more news and information do visit us at Oklahoma Watch