At least half of Florida’s assisted living communities already have implemented — or plan to initiate — COVID-19 vaccination mandates for staff members, according to a recent poll.

The Florida Senior Living Association surveyed its members on their COVID-19 vaccination practices and found that 50% require or intend to require employees to be vaccinated, and almost 30% require or intend to require residents to be vaccinated.

Vaccination rates among senior living workers have lagged behind resident rates. Although some operators have opted for vaccine mandates, others are taking the route of education to try to nudge numbers up, over fear of losing staff members during an already challenging workforce environment.

“As an association, we’re definitely promoting the vaccine to our members, but we’re also allowing each of them to make their own decisions about whether to mandate it,” an FSLA spokeswoman told McKnight’s Senior Living.

Although FSLA assisted living communities estimated that 10% to 15% of staff members would resign rather than be vaccinated, they reported that range was 6% or less.

The poll also found that almost 32% of members require or intend to require the third-party contractors with which they work to be vaccinated, and 13.6% require or intend to require visitors to their communities be vaccinated. 

Seeking support

Across the country, in a position statement posted on its website last week, the Colorado Assisted Living Association said that it is committed to increasing vaccination rates. But the association cautioned that a vaccine mandate focused solely on long-term care sectors “would push too many caregivers out of their jobs and facilities to their breaking point.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment voted Monday to require state healthcare workers in 3,800 licensed facilities across the state to be fully vaccinated by the end of October. The mandate applies to staff members and contractors who interact with residents and patients in assisted living homes, nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, community clinics and other healthcare settings. 

According to CDPHE, about 30% of the state’s healthcare workforce remain unvaccinated. 

But CALA Board President Nicole Schiavone said that the mandate should go further and include all areas in healthcare-related fields — physicians’ offices, freestanding clinics, home health and hospice agencies, adult protective services providers, health department staff members, surveyors, emergency medical service providers, ombudsmen, pharmacies, physical therapy clinics and others who work with vulnerable populations. The concern, CALA noted, is the workers will migrate to non-24/7 fields to avoid the mandate.

CALA anticipates that 10% of the assisted living workforce will be lost to vaccine mandates. And 25% of communities without mandates report a workforce shortage already. Schiavone wrote that nurses are not renewing their licenses or are opting for early retirement, and staff members are migrating to non-health professions that have less risk and higher wages.

Along with education, CALA advocates for a federally funded daily testing alternative to vaccination. Schiavone said that half of the 16 states (and Washington, D.C.) that have vaccine mandates include this provision, as do large hospitals.

In addition, CALA called on the federal government to release a portion of the Provider Relief Fund monies now to offset staffing and testing costs, as well as to incentivize vaccinated healthcare workers over the next six to 12 months. And the association called on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and CDPHE to modify visitation guidance to allow providers to ask about the vaccination status of visitors and require vaccination or a negative test result before visits.

“Our nation’s most vulnerable deserve full protection from the virus, but they also deserve access to the supportive levels of care they need,” Schiavone wrote. “Federal and state officials must take a comprehensive and supportive approach to ensure viable options are in place to guarantee access to care at all levels.”

New mandates

Elsewhere, St. Paul, MN-based Episcopal Homes reportedly was the first long-term care organization in the Gopher State to announce a staff vaccination mandate, which it did on July 30. Employees and outside contractors must show proof of vaccination by today.

“We have a moral duty to protect those we serve as best we can, as well as protect ourselves and our loved ones and the broader community,” CEO Marvin Plakut wrote in a recent post on the Episcopal Homes website

In announcing the mandate, Plakut said that vaccination is the “number one way to put this pandemic behind us and avoid implementing unwanted restrictions.” He added that the company already requires vaccinations for influenza, hepatitis B and pertussis and that “COVID-19 should no longer be an exception.”

Eventide Senior Living Communities, based in Moorhead, MN, announced an employee vaccination mandate Aug. 2. Effective yesterday, all new employees were required to have received the COVID-19 vaccine as part of the hiring process. Existing staff members have until Oct. 1 to be fully vaccinated. 

“We often receive requests from families and residents asking that only vaccinated staff provide care, and we believe that every person we serve deserves the peace of mind of knowing we have limited their risk as much as possible,” Eventide President and CEO Jon Riewer wrote in a website post. “We must continue to do everything we can to combat the virus, and requiring employees be vaccinated is an important step.”

At the time of the announcement, Eventide facilities in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo reported that more than 75% of their 1,300 total  employees were vaccinated, with some locations as high as 95%. The company stated that requiring all employees to be vaccinated is important “as the nation prepares for another wave of infections.”

Additional senior living companies requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for employees include Aegis Living, ALG Senior, American House Senior Living Communities, The Arbor Co., Asbury Communities, Ascension Living, Atria Senior Living, Benchmark Senior Living, Brightview Senior Living, Brookdale Senior Living, CareOne, Civitas Senior Living, Enlivant, Episcopal Retirement Services, ER Senior Management, Five Star Senior Living, the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, Harbor Retirement Associates (for new employees), Holiday Retirement, Homestead Assisted Living, Immanuel Senior Living, IntegraCare, Integral Senior Living, JEA Senior Living, Jewish Home Family, Juniper Communities, LCS, Masonicare, Meridian Senior Living, Pacific Retirement Services, Phoebe Ministries, Presbyterian Senior Living, PruittHealth, Retirement Center Management, Silverado, Sunrise Senior Living, Transforming Age, Trilogy Health Services, Trinity Health, United Methodist Communities, Vi Living, Wesley Enhanced Living and Western Home Communities.