New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaking

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks at a 2017 campaign event. (Credit: Spencer Platt / Staff/Getty Images)

New Jersey senior living providers are concerned that a new executive order requiring full COVID-19 vaccination and booster shots of healthcare workers at assisted living communities, nursing homes and other settings will contribute to existing workforce challenges in long-term care.

The executive order signed Wednesday by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) requires employees in healthcare facilities and high-risk congregate settings to be up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations, including having received a booster dose, within the month, with the precise deadline depending on whether they work in a facility covered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services vaccine mandate upheld last week by the Supreme Court. A similar national mandate from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for employers of 100 or more workers, would have affected many providers but was put on hold by the Supreme Court at the same time.

“With the highly transmissible omicron variant spreading across the country and New Jersey, it is essential that we do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable populations,” Murphy said in a statement. “With immunity waning approximately five months after a primary COVID-19 vaccination, receiving a booster dose is necessary to protect yourself and those around you. It is critically important that we slow the spread throughout our healthcare and congregate settings in order to protect our vulnerable populations and the staff that care for them.”

Executive Order 283 applies to full- and part-time employees, contractors and other individuals, such as those providing operational, custodial or administrative support, working in covered settings. Covered workers no longer will be permitted to submit to testing instead of vaccination, unless they have an exemption from vaccination. Workers currently subject to testing under a previous executive order, however, must continue testing once or twice weekly until they prove that they are up to date on their vaccinations.

Workers not subject to the CMS mandate have until Feb. 16 to obtain their first dose of the primary series of a COVID-19 vaccination and must submit proof that they are up to date with their vaccination by March 30. Workers who are subject to the CMS mandate have until Jan. 27 to receive their first vaccine and must submit proof of vaccination by Feb. 28. All workers who become newly eligible for a booster shot after those deadlines will be required to submit proof that they received their booster shot within three weeks of becoming eligible.

James W. McCracken, president and CEO of LeadingAge New Jersey and Delaware, expressed concern about providers’ abilities to meet the deadlines.

“Adequately staffing long-term care communities is of great concern to our members,” he said. “The omicron surge has magnified the workforce challenges in senior living, and we are very concerned that our communities can comply.”

Under the order, all covered settings also must have a disciplinary process for workers who don’t comply, up to termination of employment. Facilities also can impose more stringent vaccination or testing requirements on their workers.

“We are fearful that the new mandate will push workers away from the long-term care industry and exacerbate an already existing shortage of healthcare workers,” Andy Aronson, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, the state partner of Argentum and the state affiliate of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “These workers have been heroic throughout this pandemic, and they deserve respect, appreciation and support that the governor’s executive directive does not provide,” he added.

Meanwhile, Roger Bernier, president of Fanwood, NJ-based Chelsea Senior Living, said that the executive order, coming in an already stressed long-term care labor market, is “detrimental” to residents living at the company’s 16 senior living communities.

“While this presents a challenge with reduced staff, communities such as ours are now scrambling to provide COVID-19 vaccine and booster clinics, giving way to an already taxed healthcare environment,” Bernier told News 12, The Bronx

According to Chelsea, 10% to 15% of its 1,100 employees could be affected by the executive order. 

LeadingAge says that, as of Wednesday, 25 states require COVID-19 vaccination for employees of various categories, and 16 of those states have mandates with language specific to long-term care or healthcare settings. Six of the states are now requiring boosters or “up to date” status of the vaccinated. Thirteen states ban COVID-19 vaccine mandates.