State Covid-19 Action Update
August 13 - This week, Gov. Wolf announced that state employees working in health care or “high risk” congregate facilities - will be required to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 7 or face weekly virus testing.
On Thursday, the state Department of Health said all Pennsylvania skilled nursing facilities would be required to have at least 80 percent of their staff fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, or face more frequent testing for unvaccinated employees, with a promise that “appropriate regulatory action will be taken if the facilities are not compliant with testing requirements.”
According to DoH, one out of eight nursing homes have staff vaccinated at or above 80 percent, which state officials say is not enough to prevent future outbreaks of the virus.
“Getting 80 percent of nursing home staff vaccinated is aggressive, but achievable,” said DOH Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter. “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.”
Over the last 17 months, nursing home operators have been critical of the administration’s lack of focus on nursing homes early during the pandemic. They claim they were begging for help and received little, and the administration's continued mandates on SNFs with little financial support is unfair.
The Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents about one-third of all nursing homes, said no one with the state Health Department contacted providers before making the vaccination requirement decision. They called the department’s announcement another mandate “with no accompanying solutions to achieve it.” Nursing home workers are already tested on a monthly, weekly or biweekly basis depending on county positivity rates. That directive has been in place from CMS since September 2020.
But not all within the industry are opposed to mandatory vaccinations for their facility staff. LeadingAge PA – which represents more than 380 nonprofit long-term care facilities – announced they were encouraging their members, and all health care organizations, to mandate vaccination for staff.
“Mandatory vaccinations as a condition of employment in long-term care facilities have increased in Pennsylvania because their staff are providing daily direct care services to those most vulnerable to the coronavirus,” said the statement issued by the LeadingAge PA board of directors. “Even fully vaccinated older adults in long-term care settings have shown to be at risk with the new variants of COVID emerging and the presence of unvaccinated staff.”