COvID vaccine vial

New York long-term care workers are the latest group to fall under a state COVID-19 vaccination mandate. Meanwhile, Arizona-based senior living provider Sun Health announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate as a condition of employment for its more than 600 workers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that all staff at assisted living communities, nursing homes, adult day centers, hospitals and other congregate care settings will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27. The New York Department of Health will issue orders requiring those providers to develop and implement an employee vaccination mandate. 

Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association / New York State Center for Assisted Living, said the requirements apply to assisted living, nursing home and hospital providers, but it’s not clear if the mandate applies to all healthcare workers on the continuum. The state health department is working on the guidance, he noted.

“For these mandates to be truly effective, in the face of a long-term care workforce crisis, it’s critical that any mandate apply to all providers across the healthcare continuum so we don’t lose employees to one sector that is not mandated to be vaccinated,” Hanse told McKnight’s Senior Living. We are anticipating additional guidance being issued by the state providing greater detail, in terms of who the mandate applies to and what are the consequences for those who do not get vaccinated.”

Lisa Newcomb, executive director of the Empire State Association of Assisted Living, echoed Hanse’s comments, telling McKnight’s Senior Living that she “strongly supports” members who have made vaccination mandates. The statewide vaccination rate for assisted living staff is 76%, she added.

“At the same time, some members are concerned that a state mandate will exacerbate an already challenging workforce shortage and that their unvaccinated staff will move on to other jobs, including other parts of the healthcare sector that may not be subject to the mandate,” Newcomb said.

LeadingAge New York President James Clyne agreed with other state senior living organization leaders in seeking clarification about what settings are covered by the mandate.

“We think the broader the mandate, the better,” Clyne told McKnight’s Senior Living, adding that he shares concerns that not mandating vaccination for the entire healthcare workforce will create staffing problems.

A spokesperson for Argentum New York said that the association supports senior living employers throughout the industry mandating vaccinations for their workforces.

“Vaccination continues to be the best way to mitigate the continued spread and impact of COVID-19 to keep residents and staff healthy,” the spokesperson told McKnight’s Senior Living.

According to the governor’s office, 74% of the state’s 30,000 adult day center workers, 68% of its 145,500 nursing home workers and 75% of its 450,000 hospital workers are vaccinated.

In a release, Cuomo said new daily positive cases are up more than 1,000% over the past six weeks due to the delta variant.

“Our healthcare heroes led the battle against the virus, and now we need them to lead the battle between the variant and the vaccine,” the governor said. 

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, M.D., said that the mandate will “help close the vaccination gap and reduce the spread of the delta variant.”

The news follows an Aug. 2 announcement that public transportation employees working in facilities in the Empire State are required to be vaccinated by Labor Day and a July 28 announcement that state employees in hospitals are required to be vaccinated by Labor Day. State employees that choose to remain unvaccinated will be required to undergo weekly COVID testing.

Other states and territories that have announced vaccine mandates for long-term care and healthcare workers include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Puerto Rico and Washington.

Senior living mandate

A day later and on the other side of the country, Surprise, AZ-based Sun Health on Tuesday announced that it is requiring its more than 600 staff members to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. A spokesperson told McKnight’s Senior Living that more than half of its employees already are vaccinated. The resident vaccination rate is at more than 90%.

Sun Health President Joe La Rue said he was “pleasantly surprised” to receive positive feedback on the mandate when he addressed employees about the decision.

“We held a series of meetings with employees to discuss the scientific and medical reasons behind why this mandate is the right thing to do,” La Rue said in a statement. “For those who still have concerns and questions, we are having individual meetings and our medical director is also available to alleviate concerns.”

Team members who provide proof of vaccination on or before the deadline will receive a $100 cash incentive. The employment of those who do not comply will be terminated.

Sun Health operates three life plan communities —  Grandview Terrace, La Loma Village and The Colonnade — as well as health and wellness programs, a home care program and a philanthropic support program.

ER Senior Management and Western Home Communities announced their own staff vaccination mandates on Monday, joining a growing list of senior living providers that already have mandates in place.