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Unvaccinated healthcare workers in about half the United States must receive a first dose of a Covid vaccine by Thursday under a federal mandate that has understaffed hospitals and nursing homes in a bid to lose more workers.
The Biden administration’s mandate, set to take effect in stages, will ultimately affect about 10 million healthcare workers at 76,000 hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory health agencies and other providers participating in Medicaid and Medicare.
Thursday’s deadline follows a Jan. 13 Supreme Court decision that blocked a vaccination or testing mandate for large employers but maintained a vaccination requirement for healthcare workers in federally-funded facilities. Those medical facilities will lose funding if they don’t comply, federal officials said.
The vaccination requirement goes into effect this week in states that have not challenged the mandate in court, including California, Hawaii, Minnesota and New York, as well as all US territories.
Health care workers in most remaining states, where a lower court blocked the mandate, have until February 14 to receive a first dose. For Texas, the deadline is February 22. To keep their jobs, all healthcare workers must be fully vaccinated one month after their first dose.
Some in the care home industry say the mandate could exacerbate staffing shortages and jeopardize care for older patients. They have repeatedly pushed for a testing opportunity for their workers.
Mark Parkinson, the executive chairman of the American Health Care Association, a trade group that represents thousands of nursing homes across the country, said in a statement last week that its members remain “concerned that the impact of the vaccination mandate on healthcare workers will be devastating to an already depleted long-term care workforce.”
Just over 80 per cent of staff at the trade group’s care homes are fully vaccinated, Mr Parkinson said. He said providers had made “valiant efforts” to vaccinate their staff and should not be penalized.
Mary Susan Tack-Yurek, chief quality officer and partner at Quality Life Services, a nursing home chain in western Pennsylvania, said her company achieved a high vaccination rate without a mandate. More than 96 percent of the chain’s employees are vaccinated or have medical exemptions, she said, a steep increase since October, when fewer than half of employees were vaccinated.
“We strongly support the vaccine and its effectiveness and authenticity, but we respect the individual choice,” she said.
Mandate advocates say they have spurred millions of hesitant Americans to get vaccinated and they are needed to stem the spread of the virus, particularly among vulnerable hospital patients and nursing home residents.
Nursing homes have already exploited various financial incentives to encourage voluntary vaccination, including sweepstakes and giveaways, said Dr. Brian McGarry, a health researcher at the University of Rochester who specializes in the study of long-term health care.
“I think the only tool left in the policy toolbox is a blanket mandate,” he said.