Vaccine Mandates in Nursing Homes

COVID-19 DC Politics Health Care

New Orleans, It was inevitable.  We could see this coming as clear as the day’s dawn.  It was just a matter of time.  Representing nursing home workers, we knew, given the last year’s history with the pandemic and the death count in care facilities, that a vaccine mandate was necessary and would be unavoidable.  Now it’s here with everything but the day on the calendar marked.

President Biden is waving a big stick and is not talking softly.  He indicated in a press conference that a rule was coming that any nursing home without a fully vaccinated staff would not be able to receive Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement.  For the vast majority of home operators, that is their lifeblood.  Biden indicated that the vaccine mandate would likely come as early as next month.

Naming September is another indication, if you are reading all of the signs, that the CDC is preparing to remove the emergency designation from the Covid-19 vaccines, ripping away the last legal and operational rationale for not already imposing a mandate.  Hard hit Louisiana’s Governor John Bel Edwards, on his monthly radio show, indicated that once the designation was removed, the vaccine would be part of the regular arsenal of shots required routinely in schools and everywhere else with polio, diphtheria, and other standards.

Biden has also ordered the Secretary of Education to look at how to use federal monies going to schools to force similar mandates there as well as withholding federal monies and empowering civil rights investigations where governors and state legislatures have tried to thwart even mask mandates.  Schools in Tampa’s Hillsborough County and Miami’s Dade County have now joined the list of districts openly opposed the no-masking policies of Florida’s governor.

Our union had already asked our nursing home and other healthcare contractors to mandate vaccinations for any new hires and to give a runway of 90 to 120 days to existing workers to get the shots.  Most were appreciative of our position, but hesitant to act either based on the CDC or worrying about staff shortages.   Biden has now circumvented the ostrich approach.  I wasn’t surprised, with the latest news breaking, to find without, so much as an email or a call, the lawyer for one of our largest health care contractors had triggered my scheduling app to get on my calendar within 48-hours to discuss wages in the middle of our contract.  We have been arguing to all of our companies that they needed to put some “sugar in the coffee” to make this happen, and this company seems to have seen the light.

Nursing home industry officials have reacted to Biden’s vaccine mandate by both agreeing that it was necessary, but also calling for the same mandate to be imposed at all health care facilities.  They, rightly, worry that they may lose some workers in this highly competitive staffing environment.

This is one occasion where it doesn’t pain me to say that they are right, even if for the wrong reasons.  Vaccines need to be mandated across the board in healthcare in order to protect the workers and their vulnerable clients and patients, as a public health measure.  The fact that there is competition and that this may force wages to rise – finally – is another benefit to both workers and their charges that also should have happened long ago.