WALLINGFORD – Among local long-term health care facilities, there is no consensus on whether COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory for employees.
Masonicare Home Health and Hospice requires employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of June, allowing approved medical exemptions.
“Our organization really revolves around us taking care of our residents, with the great staff we have,” Masonicare CEO JP Venoit said last week.
“Both have to stay healthy, and the only way to do that is to get vaccinated,” he said.
Masonicare has approximately 1,800 employees across its continuum of senior health care – with campuses in Wallingford, Mystic and Chester, as well as home health and companion programs.
About 85% of full-time employees have been vaccinated, Venoit said. Part-time employees have a lower vaccination rate, but some have been vaccinated off-site, which means the rate could be higher.
Masonicare allows employees to claim a medical exemption, which is also allowed for the annual flu shot requirement. Dr. Ronald Schwartz, Masonicare’s Senior Director for Continuing Health Services, reviews medical exemptions for approval.
“We really saw this as a beacon of hope in bringing us to some normalcy,” said Venoit, “but also as a way to protect our residents and staff from illness. We were early enough to adopt the vaccination mandate. “
Venoit said he knew roughly from the start of the COVID-19 employee vaccination clinics at Masonicare, which began on December 21, 2020, that it would become mandatory. Venoit said that through weekly communications, employees had known for some time.
If an employee doesn’t have an exemption and just doesn’t want to get the shot, “they’re not working for us,” Venoit said.
“We saw havoc across the state, across the country of COVID,” he said, “and when the vaccine came out we did a pretty significant amount of vaccine research.”
Schwartz and Venoit looked at the case studies presented to the FDA on Phase 3 – human trials – from a distance and saw firsthand the data and side effect information presented.
“When that was approved and all of this research was obtained,” he said, “we as a group really sat there and said, ‘We have to do this for our whole organization. “.”
Since the launch of the COVID-19 vaccination clinic in December, when Venoit and Schwartz were among the first staff to receive a first dose, Masonicare has held 70 to 80 clinics for employees and residents, distributing approximately 5,000 doses of vaccine.
Venoit said the COVID-19 vaccination rate among residents was around 97 to 98%. The majority of residents who were not vaccinated cited a health problem, he said.
Employee reluctance to vaccines has diminished over time, Venoit said.
He said that last Saturday a NAC approached him and told him she was worried about taking the COVID-19 vaccine, but decided to do so after reading his memos and watching the videos he had done with Schwartz.
She told Venoit that she had no side effects or other issues, and said she now thought it was the right thing for the organization and the residents to do. She even talks to her colleagues who haven’t figured it out yet.
“It’s things like that that really help in the process,” Venoit said.
Venoit said other long-term care facilities across the state have turned to Masonicare for advice on mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
“We’re seeing a pretty significant increase in our peers looking to do the same,” he said, “asking how we did it, what is the practice, how did you put in place some of your exemptions, what’s the grace period, all of those things.
Ann Collette, Masonicare’s vice president of strategy and business development, said last week that Masonicare factored employee retention and the labor market into its decision to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.
“We were seeing a lot of companies that took a little bit of time,” said Collette, “and weren’t really prepared, or didn’t know where to go, in terms of whether or not to make this mandatory. “
She said some long-term care organizations were reluctant to impose the COVID-19 vaccine and risk losing employees, but Venoit trusted Masonicare employees they did not want to leave.
“As we do it, and I think as we go along, we start to see people lining up, and I hope that will continue,” she said. .
Not all of them require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Quinnipiac Valley Center, another nursing home in Wallingford, has completed three vaccination clinics through CVS as part of the Pharmacy Partnership for Long Term Care program.
“Through communications, engagement and trust building,” spokesperson Lori Mayer said via email Wednesday, “we are aiming for high staff immunization rates without attempting to impose a requirement. “
Mayer said 77% of Quinnipiac Valley Center residents and 57% of staff have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – meaning they received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or the dose vaccine unique Johnson & Johnson.
The Quinnipiac Valley Center has not had access to resident vaccines from its home clinics with CVS, but expects to receive access through CVS in the coming weeks, she said.
“Vaccination is the critical third stool foot, along with personal protective equipment and testing, to stem the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and protect residents and healthcare workers,” Mayer said .
“This is undoubtedly the largest vaccination effort ever undertaken and it will help prevent further tragedies, especially in this vulnerable population,” she said.
Quinnipiac Valley Center – owned by Genesis HealthCare – opened a recovery unit dedicated to COVID-19 patients last May.
It is not known whether other long-term care facilities in Wallingford make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory and staff immunization levels are not being reported to the Wallingford Department of Health or the Department of Public Health in London. ‘State.
DPH spokeswoman Maura Fitzgerald said by email that the pharmacy partners were running COVID-19 vaccination clinics in late 2020 and throughout this year at skilled nursing facilities. and assisted living facilities for residents and staff.
Pharmacies were not required to distinguish between staff and residents when reporting their numbers, she said.
She echoed Venoit’s comments about part-time employees who work at multiple facilities receiving their COVID-19 vaccines through providers outside of facility clinics run by their employers, making it difficult the precise count of staff vaccinations.
Gaylord Specialty Healthcare, which is not a nursing home for the aged but offers physical rehabilitation and long-term hospital care, as well as a residential brain injury and stroke program at its campus in Wallingford, n ‘ not require employees to be vaccinated.
Dr Stephen Holland, Gaylord’s chief medical officer, said last week that many other acute care hospitals also do not mandate COVID-19 vaccines – although other vaccines, including influenza , are always mandatory.
He added that Gaylord was “impressed with the effectiveness of the vaccine’s safety, and if it were to be recalled, there is a good chance it will be made mandatory at this point.”
Since the COVID-19 vaccine is brand new, Holland said, there are still many questions and many groups, including pregnant women, who do not yet have as much information on side effects.
“Sometimes it makes sense to wait for the general population,” he said, “where you’ve got millions of doses out there, and find out what those results are before you make something mandatory, because , remember, any type of vaccination process carries some risk. “
Despite the lack of a requirement to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine, at least 75% of Gaylord’s full-time employees have been vaccinated.
Holland said the number could be higher because employees are not required to report whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 elsewhere.
Only 59 percent of part-time Gaylord employees said they had been vaccinated against COVID-19, but since many work in other hospitals, “there is a good chance that most of them will be vaccinated elsewhere” Holland said.
Gaylord is a public vaccine distribution site under the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).
Holland said last Wednesday Gaylord announced through a cover page that there were additional doses of vaccine available at the VAMS clinic, so three staff members were able to get vaccinated without going through the appointment process.
Holland himself showed no hesitation about the vaccines, saying he was the first in line.
“There was no doubt in my mind that this was going to be a game-changer in terms of reversing the COVID trend,” he said, “and I think we’re seeing that, even with the domination of the variants to come. up. He is clearly upset with the vaccination process, ”he said.
“I can’t talk to groups enough about the importance of getting vaccinated,” he added.
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