President Biden’s vaccine mandate for workers at healthcare agencies receiving Medicare and Medicaid was the kind of good news Louisiana home care agencies needed. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the Bayou State, vaccination rates against the virus continue to hover around 40%. 

Warren Hebert, Home Care Association of Louisiana CEO, told McKnight’s Home Care Daily many agencies wanted to mandate vaccinations for workers but were afraid they would lose staff.

Warren Hebert

“I think a lot of people have made the decisions so far not to be vaccinated because of their tribe,” Hebert said, referring to the political and cultural reasons behind vaccine hesitancy among Louisiana healthcare workers. “I think a lot of people are realizing they have to change their minds.”

Home care and home healthcare agencies across the country are waiting for further guidance from the administration about the federal vaccine mandate the administration announced last Thursday, covering healthcare workers, federal workers, government contractors and businesses with more than 100 employees. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is developing an interim final rule with a comment period that will be issued sometime in October.

In the meantime, home care agencies across the country have a lot of questions. Kevin Smith, CEO for Quincy, MA-based Best of Care, has a few of his own. He wants to know if the federal mandate will supersede the vaccine mandate that takes effect in his state next month. The executive order in Massachusetts doesn’t allow employers to test weekly, but the federal mandate does.

“The question is whether Massachusetts will allow weekly testing or require weekly testing on top of an exemption or not,” Smith told McKnight’s Home Care Daily. “And, logically, the employers and the business community want to know who pays for that weekly test?”

Nevada Personal Care Association President Robert Crockett wants to know why the mandate singles out some providers, but not others.

Robert Crockett

“If you’ve got a Medicaid personal care agency with 75 caregivers, everyone needs to be vaccinated,(but) if you’ve got a personal care agency with 75 caregivers that only provides service to private pay clients there’s no requirement for vaccination,” Crockett explained in an email to McKnight’s Home Care Daily. “If the goal is to protect the vulnerable, that doesn’t make sense. If you’re going to make the vaccine mandatory, make it mandatory and stop taking half measures.”

Crockett also worries the mandate will exacerbate the caregiver shortage by driving workers to other industries or sideline them entirely. A recent poll adds to that concern. Caring.com surveyed 2,000 caregivers after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine and found vaccine hesitancy among unvaccinated caregivers increased from 1 in 4 caregivers to 1 in 3.

Still, many agencies say the mandate is a game-changer for an industry that has been reluctant to embrace COVID-19 shots.

“Now, we’re at that point where a line has been drawn in the sand for us, as opposed to by us,” Smith said.