As long-term care staff member COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to lag nationally, an Ohio provider is joining a growing industry trend of mandating employee vaccination out of a sense of “moral and ethical duty” to its residents. The company, however, which offers both senior living and skilled nursing, becomes one of the first large nursing home operators to announce such a policy.

Continuing Healthcare Solutions, which has 31 senior living and nursing facilities across Ohio, including nine locations with assisted living and eight locations with memory care units, will require its more than 2,000 employees to receive a first-round vaccination by June 1.

“CHS has chosen to be at the forefront,” President and Managing Partner Benjamin Parsons said. “It became clear to us that requiring staff vaccination is part of our moral and ethical duty to keep the residents who have been entrusted in our care, and the employees who we need and value, safe. It’s that simple, and that important.”

Parsons told McKnight’s Senior Living that the company considered scientific research into vaccine safety and the experiences of vaccinated staffers, who reported “the anticipated soreness and minor side effects,” in making its decision.

As a larger long-term care organization, CHS is one of the first providers focused on skilled nursing to announce a vaccination mandate for its employees. ALG Senior, Atria Senior Living, Civitas Senior Living, Juniper Communities, Enlivant, Sunrise Senior Living and Silverado have announced similar policies in recent months, but those companies primarily focus on senior living, not skilled nursing, although Juniper and Sunrise offer some skilled nursing care.

Parsons said that although the vaccine mandate makes CHS “unusual among its peers,” he expects the trend to accelerate. COVID-19 cases are inching upward again in the Buckeye State, and Rochelle Walensky, M.D., MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently warned of a potential fourth wave of the virus nationally amid pandemic fatigue and spring break travels.

CHS, Parsons said, is trying to keep case counts low through visitation rules, personal protective equipment use, enhanced sanitation practices and employee health screenings, “but we know the threat is not over,” he said.

“The pandemic is not over,” Parsons said, adding that the move to mandate vaccinations was not prompted by any recent event or outbreak. “We share the concerns expressed by CDC officials, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and others that it’s too early to drop our defenses, and now we know we have an effective way to fight back: the vaccines. Quite simply, we all need to get the shot.”

Employees can claim medical or religious exemptions from vaccination if a physician or spiritual adviser signs off on them. Those employees would have to meet current PPE requirements, regardless of how those standards might change moving forward, Parsons said.

CHS will participate in Ohio’s COVID Maintenance Program for assisted living communities and nursing homes to continue offering vaccination opportunities to staff members and residents, he added. 

The company declined to release the specific vaccination rate for employees but said it is in line with the national figure of approximately 40%. CHS’ resident vaccination rate is more than 80%.

Parsons said that CHS understands and respects that some workers may have been cautious or hesitant about the vaccine early on, but he added that science and experience show that “the benefits far outweigh any risk.” The company will work with employees who still have doubts or fears, including combating misinformation on social media, he said. 

The emergency use authorization status of the current vaccines doesn’t mean the vaccines haven’t been tested and reviewed, Parsons added. 

“Our nation’s top scientists and epidemiologists agree on their use. We also now have months of experience administering the vaccines,” he said. “We know that the vaccines have met these tests. We also know what COVID-19 can do — kill people in the hundreds of thousands. It’s time to get the vaccine.”

Parsons said he hopes not to lose a single employee over the mandate, but he said that CHS is making it clear: “This is mandatory for our employees.”

For additional coverage, visit the site of sister media brand McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

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