Federal vaccination policy for nursing home staff draws labor shortage concerns

An elderly man sits in a wheelchair at a nursing home. (FOX 9)

President Joe Biden announcing a new policy requiring all nursing home employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. Facilities that don't comply could lose federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.

However, the policy is getting pushback from facilities around the country, as many fear staff will quit and there won't be enough employees to care for residents.

"Right now on any given day, there are about 10,000 open positions in long-term care settings in Minnesota," said Gayle Kvenvold, the CEO of LeadingAge Minnesota.

LeadingAge Minnesota is an association that represents about 1,000 assisted living and nursing homes in the state. They strongly believe in COVID-19 vaccinations for nursing home staff, but a federal mandate puts them in a bind.

"But the concern that we have about this mandate is that it has the potential to make worse a very severe workforce crisis that we already have in our settings," said Kvenvold.

That’s the catch-22 for nursing homes. They need a vaccinated staff to provide a safe environment. They also simply need staff for a safe environment and they know some will choose quitting over vaccination.

"And in our smaller communities where there isn’t a large pool of vaccinated individuals from which to draw replacement workers - that’s a real concern," said Kvenvold.

LeadingAge shared their numbers. Statewide, two-thirds of their nursing home and assisted living staff are fully vaccinated. The highest percentages are in the metro and the lowest percentages are across western Minnesota.

"The decision to be vaccinated is not just influenced by where someone works, it’s influenced by the broader community where someone lives," said Kvenvold.

She says some younger staff are worried about getting pregnant, despite no evidence the vaccines are unsafe. Others are waiting for full FDA approval.

LeadingAge officials hope workers get vaccinated, but hope the federal government can give them more flexibility.

"Certainly at a time when we’ve got care centers, nursing homes, struggling to keep their doors open, the idea of financial penalties is a really troubling one," said Kvenvold.

Officials at Presbyterian Homes, one of the larger providers of assisted living in Minnesota, told FOX 9 they are facing the same labor shortage issue. They say their unvaccinated workers are wearing protective equipment and undergoing routine testing. They hope the federal government takes notice of those steps to allow them to continue working.