Liza Berger headshot
Liza Berger

Does Rhode Island’s mandate go too far? On Thursday, my colleague Diane Eastabrook reported that the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate might send home care workers scurrying.

The mandate requires unvaccinated healthcare personnel to test twice a week for the virus starting this week and be fully vaccinated by the beginning of October. The first wave of home care resignations occurred Thursday, said Nicholas Oliver, executive director of the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care. He expects that number to go upwards of 700.

The ironic part is it’s not that home care caregivers in the state have failed to vaccinate. Oliver said only 8% of the state’s 8,000 nursing assistants, therapists and support staff working for licensed home care agencies remain unvaccinated. Those who don’t want to stick around, he believes, have not received the shot due to medical reasons.

Oliver’s organization, for now, is talking to both the governor’s office and the state’s public health director on a possible medical exemption that could allow some home care workers to continue working until they can be vaccinated later.

There is no question that a story like Rhode Island’s is a “worst fears realized” tale. It is precisely because of the fear of a mass worker exodus that two major home care associations, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, and the Home Care Association of America, have stopped short of advocating for vaccination requirements at home care and home health agencies.

It seems to me that we could use a standardized healthcare policy regarding mandates right about now. It ideally would be the same across state lines and from healthcare organization to healthcare organization. CMS’ recent vaccination requirement for Medicare- and Medicaid-funded nursing homes might be a good template for home care. 

It is not fair to hang home care agencies out to dry, or any other healthcare organization for that matter. Healthcare entities should not have to compete for workers with each other, at least on vaccination grounds. The workers are too precious; the needs are too great.

A uniform requirement would help to provide an even playing field for healthcare providers that does not pit one state or provider against another. At the center of it it all would be common-sense rules that have the health and safety of of workers and patients in mind.

Liza Berger is editor of McKnight’s Home Care. Email her at [email protected]