Maine Gov. Janet Mills hedshot

With backing from senior living and healthcare associations, Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced last week a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the state’s healthcare workers, including assisted living and other long-term care workers.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued an emergency rule requiring healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. The order includes workers at residential care facilities, nursing facilities, home health agencies and other healthcare settings.

“With this move, Maine becomes one of the most aggressive states in the nation in requiring vaccination of healthcare workers, both in terms of the scope of healthcare workers and timeframe for vaccination,” according to a news release from the governor’s office. 

The state already requires healthcare facility employees to be immunized against measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B and influenza. According to a Maine CDC healthcare employee COVID-19 vaccination dashboard, 74.7% of assisted housing staff members — which includes assisted living, memory care and intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities — were vaccinated as of July 31. As a condition of licensure, providers must ensure employee vaccinations.

Lisa Henderson, executive director of LeadingAge Maine & New Hampshire, told McKnight’s Senior Living that the majority of its not-for-profit assisted housing (80.62%) and nursing home (83.08%) members have achieved high staff vaccination rates. Providers are working to connect with long-term care pharmacies or local retail pharmacies to reserve vaccine doses.

“The tight timeline will be challenging, and there are some concerns that a fraction of staff will exit the field rather than get vaccinated,” Henderson said, adding that those challenges will be overcome “for the sake of helping stop this virus in its tracks. However, our members firmly believe that vaccination is the most proven intervention to protect residents, staff and the broader community from the COVID-19 virus.”

“Scientific data show that vaccination is our best protection against all strains of the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine CDC. “Given the elevated risk posed by the delta variant, this is a prudent step in preventing COVID-19 from putting more Maine people at risk, especially those who care for others.”

Several healthcare providers across the state welcomed the news, including the Maine Health Care Association, the state affiliate of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living. 

“While we have made significant progress in increasing staff vaccination rates through education campaigns, there is more work to be done to combat the highly contagious delta variant,” MHCA President and CEO Angela Westhoff said in a statement. “MHCA supports this move to protect the health and well-being of our residents. COVID-19 vaccines have dramatically reduced COVID-19 cases and the severity of illness in long-term care settings, and this is the best tool we have to fight the pandemic.”

With the move, Maine joined a growing list of states and territories requiring employees of assisted living and other long-term care and healthcare facilities to get a COVID-19 vaccination, including Delaware, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Puerto Rico and Washington.

Just last week, the Massachusetts Assisted Living Association called on that state to expand a COVID-19 vaccine mandate —  which applies to skilled nursing facilities — to its members’ workers in senior living. And the Illinois Health Care Association told the Chicago Tribune that it would support a statewide vaccination mandate for long-term care workers.