COVID vaccine in hands of caregiver

Biden administration officials are considering withholding funds from long-term-care providers that they say aren’t doing enough to encourage employee vaccinations, according to unnamed sources quoted in a Friday Washington Post article.

“The conversations are in the early phases, and no firm decisions have been made,” the media outlet reported.

Similar efforts are being discussed for entities such as universities and cruise ships, according to the article.

Such action would broaden the scope of the administration’s efforts to bump up vaccination rates. Late last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a mandate for frontline healthcare workers to get vaccinated or face possible termination of employment.

Industry advocacy groups are opposed to federal action that would withhold funds from skilled nursing and senior living operators in relation to their vaccination efforts.

LeadingAge, individually and as part of a group of dozens of other healthcare-related groups, has called for a vaccine mandate, but President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan told the McKnight’s Business Daily that the organization opposes the withholding of federal funds for this purpose.

“We take issue with withholding Medicare reimbursement because providers need funding to cover the services they are providing today. Many providers are already working far beyond what they are actually paid/reimbursed for the services they deliver because of the exponential and unexpected expenses of COVID,” she said. “It’s frightening to think about what would happen if they stopped getting paid for their work.”

If the administration is proposing new enforcement tactics, however, they should be applied to all healthcare providers, not just ones in long-term care, Sloan said.

“Staff, residents and others in long-term care organizations move frequently around the healthcare system,” she said. “Ensuring vaccinations only among those in long-term care wouldn’t mean real protection if they aren’t safe as soon as they go to the hospital or dentist’s office.”

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, which previously announced that it “strongly urges” vaccination against COVID-19 for all healthcare personnel and supports all providers that adopt mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for such workers, told McKnight’s Business Daily: “While we recognize we have more work to do on increasing staff vaccination rates, we have made significant progress since the beginning of the year. After the first on-site clinics in nursing homes, roughly 37% of staff choose to get the vaccine. Today, 61% are vaccinated.”

AHCA / NCAL called for “a multi-pronged, persistent approach to help increase vaccination rates,” adding, “We hope the Biden administration will look for ways to support our ongoing efforts.”

The organization had set a goal that 75% of long-term care workers would be vaccinated by July 4, but that goal was not met. AHCA / NCAL, with Argentum, the American Seniors Housing Association, LeadingAge, AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine and the National Hispanic Medical Association, continues a #GetVaccinated campaign to educate workers.

ASHA also opposes penalties for operators based on worker vaccination levels.

“Senior living communities have been at the forefront in encouraging, and in many cases mandating, vaccinations for both residents and staff, subject to exemptions for reasons of disability or sincerely held religious belief,” ASHA President David Schless told the McKnight’s Business Daily. “Nevertheless, ASHA opposes punishing businesses that may be experiencing resistance to vaccination-related measures from their customers or employees.”

And Argentum President and CEO James Balda told the McKnight’s Business Daily that “[w]ithholding funds from seniors and caregivers is extremely misguided and unacceptable — they need relief funds desperately in order to support critical operations and to sustain the tremendous losses incurred over the past year and a half.”

A July survey conducted by Argentum, he added, showed that resident vaccinations rates continue to remain at more than 90%, and staff vaccination rates continue to improve, with more than 70% of workers being vaccinated against COVID-19. “In fact, COVID-19 vaccination rates within senior living communities are higher than 99% of all U.S. counties and more than double nearly two-thirds of counties,” he said