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Capitol Correspondence - 01.19.21

Employer Efforts to Promote Vaccination among Staff

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ANCOR members weighing how to encourage direct support professionals to get the COVID-19 vaccine might be interested in the approaches laid out by this New York Times article. We also offer this infographic by Politico Datapoint on COVID-19 vaccination distribution as a companion piece to the article below.

“Anxious about taking a new vaccine and scarred by a history of being mistreated, many frontline workers at hospitals and nursing homes are balking at getting inoculated against Covid-19.

Anxious about their patients’ health and scarred by many thousands of deaths in the past year, hospitals and nursing homes are desperate to have their employees vaccinated.

Those opposing forces have spawned an unusual situation: In addition to educating their workers about the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccines, a growing number of employers are dangling incentives like cash, extra time off and even Waffle House gift cards for those who get inoculated, while in at least a few cases saying they will fire those who refuse.

Officials at two large long-term care chains, Juniper Communities and Atria Senior Living, said they were requiring their workers, with limited exceptions, to take the vaccine if they wanted to keep their jobs.

[…]

At Jackson Health System in Miami, a survey of about 5,900 employees found that only half wanted to get a vaccine immediately, a hospital spokeswoman said. Most of the rest said they would consider taking it at some point in the future. But about 880 employees said they were not interested in getting vaccinated at all.

Henry Ford Health System, which runs six hospitals in Michigan, said that as of Wednesday morning, about 22 percent of its 33,000 employees had declined to be vaccinated. Seventy percent have been vaccinated, a spokesman said.

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said last month that roughly 60 percent of nursing home staff members offered the vaccine in his state had declined it. In New York City, at least 30 percent of health care workers resisted getting a vaccine in the first round of inoculations, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday.

[…]

Last month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance that allowed employers to require workers to get a Covid-19 vaccine. But the guidelines also highlighted thorny legal questions that could emerge, if workers request exceptions and employers struggle to provide them with workarounds.

[…]

Another concern about forcing workers to get vaccinated is that it could prompt hesitant employees to resign. That’s a particular worry in long-term care, where the pandemic has exacerbated a shortage of certified nursing assistants.

[…]

Some hospitals and long-term care facilities are taking a compromise approach: offering rewards to employees who agree to get vaccinated.

Georgia-based PruittHealth, which operates about 100 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the Southeast, said workers who got vaccinated would receive gift cards for a free breakfast at the Waffle House restaurant chain, also based in Georgia. […]

At Houston Methodist, a hospital system in Texas with 26,000 employees, workers who take the vaccine will be eligible for a $500 bonus. ‘Vaccination is not mandatory for our employees yet (but will be eventually),’ Dr. Marc Boom, the hospital’s chief executive, wrote in an email to employees last month. […]

At Norton Healthcare, a health system in Louisville, Ky., workers who refuse the vaccine and then catch Covid-19 will generally no longer be able to take advantage of the paid medical leave that Norton has been offering to infected employees since early in the pandemic. Instead, starting next month, unvaccinated workers will have to use their regular paid time off if they get sick with Covid-19, with limited exceptions.

Atlas Senior Living, which has 29 assisted living facilities and other communities across the Southeast, is offering workers up to four days of extra paid time off if they get vaccinated. (Some hourly workers at Atlas did not already have paid time off as part of their standard benefits.) […]

Officials at Juniper and Atria said their decisions to require employees to get vaccinated were not driven by widespread hesitance among their staffs. Both chains will make exceptions for workers who are pregnant, are allergic to vaccine ingredients or have other compelling reasons to decline the vaccine.

Atria, which has about 170 assisted living facilities and other communities in 26 states, did not initially require its roughly 10,000 U.S. workers to get vaccinated; as vaccination started in its facilities last month, most took the vaccine voluntarily, said John Moore, Atria’s chief executive.

But Atria executives decided to make vaccinations compulsory anyway, concluding that it was ‘the responsible thing to do,’ Mr. Moore said.

When Atria informed employees of the mandate last week, the response was “overwhelmingly positive,” Mr. Moore said.

At Juniper — which has 20 senior living communities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Colorado — officials have tried to educate workers about the safety and benefits of Covid-19 vaccines, including hosting a webinar with a registered nurse who was enrolled in a clinical trial of the Moderna vaccine. Officials told staff last month that vaccines would be mandatory.

‘We didn’t know when we made this decision whether we would have large-scale numbers of people leaving, but we felt it was the right thing to do,’ said Ms. Katzmann, the chief executive.

So far, 508 of Juniper’s roughly 1,500 employees have been offered the vaccine. Fifteen have resigned rather than take it.”