PA Health Department wants 80 Percent of Nursing Home Staff Vaccinated by October

Department of Health Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter set the expectation for all of Pennsylvania’s skilled nursing facilities (SNF), also referred to as nursing homes, to have at least 80 percent of staff vaccinated for COVID-19 by Oct. 1, 2021. Currently in Pennsylvania, 12.5 percent of facilities have staff vaccinated at or above 80 percent, which is not enough from a public health perspective to prevent future outbreaks of the virus.

“As COVID-19 cases rise, we are committed to helping prevent outbreaks by stopping COVID-19 from entering a nursing home in the first place, and one of the best ways we can do this is through vaccinating staff in skilled nursing facilities,” Klinepeter said. “Getting 80 percent of nursing home staff vaccinated is aggressive, but achievable. As we have seen over the past 17 months, COVID-19 kills. Getting vaccinated is the most effective measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health of residents, staff and the community.”

For SNFs that do not meet the 80 percent expectation by Oct. 1, the department will require more frequent testing for unvaccinated employees. For facilities that meet the expectation, the department will support surveillance testing in addition to outbreak testing through federal Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) grant funding. Appropriate regulatory action will be taken if the facilities are not compliant with testing requirements.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association – a statewide advocacy organization representing Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents and their providers of care – issued the following statement in response to the Department of Health’s announcement of a mandatory vaccine goal.

“Today’s announcement by the Pennsylvania Department of Health is yet another mandate – on one of the most regulated industries in the United States – with no accompanying solutions to achieve it.  Instead of proposing solutions to increase vaccine acceptance rates in long-term care, the Department of Health, today, threatened providers and issued a punitive mandate on nursing homes if 80% vaccination rates are not achieved”, said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association.

The department also announced that a new skilled nursing facility vaccine dashboard clearly showing self-reported vaccination data that is submitted weekly to the federal government. The dashboard is now available on www.health.pa.gov.

“By making this data available in this format it is  more useable for the public,” Klinepeter said. “We want families to see the vaccination rates where their loved ones are living and working. If you don’t like what you see, contact the facility and encourage them to take the necessary steps to increase staff vaccination rates to keep COVID-19 out. We remain committed to protecting those who have been working on the front line of this pandemic over the past year and a half and will continue to ensure our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians are safe.”

Organizations and states have been supporting vaccine mandates for staff in nursing homes. LeadingAge PA recently recommended their member nursing homes require vaccination for staff, and Genesis Healthcare said it will mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all staff. The state of Massachusetts also recently said that all staff working in nursing homes must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, 2021.

“As the association leading the senior services industry and representing more than 380 nonprofit long-term care facilities across Pennsylvania, the safety and care of all residents and staff in member communities remains LeadingAge PA’s top priority,” said Anne Henry, LeadingAge PA Senior Vice President and Chief Government Affairs Officer. “We encourage our members, and all health care organizations, to strongly encourage mandating vaccination for staff, and we are committed to providing members with the resources and information they need to educate staff and community members about the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

“Nursing home residents have been disproportionately impacted by this virus,” said Margaret Barajas, State Long-Term Care Ombudsman. “The commonwealth’s leadership in prioritizing their safety through this focused effort to get more staff vaccinated is a critical next step to protecting our most vulnerable residents from a potentially deadly infectious disease. We have an ethical imperative to do this. They’re counting on us.”