COVID vaccine in hands of caregiver

Concern over the COVID-19 delta variant and pockets of outbreaks in communities has led two more senior living and care providers to join a growing list of those mandating COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment for workers.

Both Fort Lee, NJ-based CareOne and St. Louis-based Ascension, parent of Ascension Living, cited the ongoing pandemic and emerging COVID-19 variants in announcing the requirements.

Based on a recommendation from its COVID-19 Task Force, CareOne announced earlier this month that it would mandate that all of its employees at its assisted living and memory care communities and skilled nursing facilities in nine states be vaccinated by Sept. 30 or provide eligibility for an exemption. The goal, a spokesman told McKnight’s Senior Living, is “vaccination, not termination,” and he added that the company expects that at least one vaccine will have full Food and Drug Administration approval by Sept. 30.

“We understand that getting vaccinated is a personal choice, which we respect,” the spokesman said. “However, that choice affects many other people, and the choice to remain unvaccinated places that individual, our patients, co-workers and families in harm’s way. Our goal is that every employee will become vaccinated, regardless of job title, unless there is a valid medical or religious exemption.’

CareOne Chief Medical Officer Amina Ahmed, M.D., wrote in a July 14 blog post on the company website that the company’s healthcare workers “have a responsibility to protect our residents and their families by getting vaccinated. We also have to take care of each other, the people we work with side-by-side who are the heart of our organization.”

Ahmed called the COVID-19 vaccines “extremely safe and effective” and implored unvaccinated workers to get vaccinated as soon as possible — “not only for yourself, your colleagues and residents, but for those you love at home as well.”

The CareOne spokesman said the company’s vaccination rate is at approximately 75% but growing each week.

In a Tuesday website post, Ascension said it “conducted a thorough moral and ethical analysis as part of the decision-making process.”

The parent of Ascension Living, which operates more than 40 senior living and care facilities, will require all of its employees, whether or not they provide direct resident or patient care, to be vaccinated. This group includes Ascension staff members who work on site or remotely, those employed by subsidiaries and partners, physicians and advanced practice providers, and volunteers and vendors.

Ascension staff members have until Nov. 12 to be fully vaccinated. The timing, the company said, aligns with an annual influenza vaccination requirement. Medical and religious exemptions will be considered.

“Together, we will put this pandemic behind us so that we can continue to focus on meeting the needs of those who come to us for care,” the online post reads. 

According to its website, Ascension employs more than 160,000 associates and 40,000 aligned providers. The health system operates more than 2,600 sites of care — including 146 hospitals and more than 40 independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing facilities — in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Mandate list grows

The two companies join a growing list of providers and state governments mandating vaccination and associations and organizations recommending such mandates as a condition of employment. An announcement from the White House is expected today regarding a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for federal employees and contractors; those who are not vaccinated are expected to be required to submit to regular testing.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the highly transmissible delta variant, recommended Tuesday that vaccinated people resume masking indoors in parts of the country with “substantial” or “high” coronavirus transmission and that K-12 schools adopt universal masking for teachers, staff members, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. As of press time, the agency has not changed its recommendations for long-term care facilities.