A growing number of professional associations are calling for COVID-19 vaccination requirements for healthcare workers, but at least one major organization is pumping the brakes on calling for an industry-wide mandate for long-term care.

“For now, we continue to focus on educational efforts to increase vaccine confidence,” a spokesperson for the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living told McKnight’s Senior Living.

The stance differs from LeadingAge, which on Monday joined 56 other healthcare-related professional associations in publicly throwing support behind a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for long-term care and other healthcare workers.

During a LeadingAge membership call Monday afternoon, President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan called vaccination “the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and to avoid the return of stringent public health measures.”

Since making the announcement Monday morning, Sloan said, she’s heard from dozens of members thanking the association for “taking a stand.” The announcement, she added, buoyed some providers to draft their own vaccination mandate letters for employees.

‘We all need to get the vaccine as a condition of employment’

Robin Jump, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and an infectious disease physician for the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System, said Monday during the LeadingAge call that she supports vaccine mandates.

“It’s too low. We have to do better,” she said of the vaccination rate. “Now we’re at a point, having tried carrots, it’s time to use some sticks.”

Approximately 60% of nursing home workers are partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data for senior living workers are more difficult to come by, because a national reporting requirement does not exist for the sector, which is regulated primarily at the state level. The vaccination rate is much higher among residents.

Jump said the vaccine has proven effective at keeping people out of the hospital and off of ventilators. And although providers initially expressed fear about losing staff members over vaccine mandates, the reality is that has not happened, she added. 

“One possibility, and we’re seeing support from all of these organizations that have signed onto the idea of a vaccine mandate, is we all have to do this — all the healthcare settings, all the long-term care settings. We all need to get the vaccine as a condition of employment so that healthcare workers that might want to leave don’t have another place to go get their job,” Jump said. “This is all about protecting our patients and our residents.”

Watch what’s happening in your state

Pointing to guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on employee vaccine mandates during the member call, Cory Kallheim, LeadingAge vice president of legal and social accountability, said that private employers, including senior living providers, need to be attuned to what is happening in their states.

Kallheim also discussed two legal cases in which employers won arguments supporting vaccine mandates. Houston Methodist Hospital System in Texas, the first hospital in the nation to mandate staff vaccinations, had a lawsuit thrown out, although the ruling already is being appealed. And in Indiana, a judge denied a preliminary injunction motion filed by students seeking to prevent Indiana University from enforcing its policy requiring COVID-19 vaccination of students and employees to return to campus in the fall.

States have the ability to mandate vaccines and protect public health, Kallheim said, adding, however, that several states already have moved to prohibit inoculation requirements.

More support for mandatory vaccination

Although President Biden in the past has said he does not support a federal mandate, the federal government on Monday did flex its muscles partially over the federal workforce when the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to implement a coronavirus vaccine mandate. The VA announced that frontline healthcare workers have until Sept. 20 to be fully vaccinated. Biden administration attorneys also have prepared a legal opinion that could pave the way for additional federal agencies as well as businesses to require employee vaccination, CNN reported.

In long-term care, AMDA-The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine previously called for mandatory vaccination among workers. The American Hospital Association also said it supports a requirement for healthcare workers.

To try to combat misinformation and vaccine hesitancy, AHCA / NCAL’s #GetVaccinated campaign has encouraged staff members as well as residents and their families to get vaccinated. The campaign also provides information to help people make informed decisions about vaccination. Additionally, LeadingAge and Argentum created COVID-10 vaccine information and resource web pages.

Several senior living companies already have COVID-19 vaccine mandates in place. Among them: Aegis Living, ALG Senior, American House Senior Living Communities, The Arbor Co., Atria Senior Living, Benchmark Senior Living, Civitas Senior Living, Enlivant, Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, Five Star Senior Living, Harbor Retirement Associates (for new employees), IntegraCare, Integral Senior Living, JEA Senior Living, Jewish Home Family, Juniper Communities, Masonicare, Pacific Retirement Services, Presbyterian Senior Living, Retirement Center Management, Silverado, Sunrise Senior Living, Trilogy Health Services, Trinity Health, Vi Living and Wesley Enhanced Living

Boston-based Hebrew SeniorLife on Monday became the latest long-term care organization to announce a COVID-19 mandate for its employees. The requirement is effective Oct. 1.

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