I went to a wedding this month.  

Let me rephrase that: I went to a wedding that was a three-day, in-person, 125-attendees, sitting-at-tables-for-eight, extravaganza with family I haven’t seen in nearly two years. And I didn’t  worry. Why? Because the invitation said, “We kindly request that all guests in attendance be fully  vaccinated against COVID. If you cannot meet these requirements, we understand, and we look forward  to seeing you when it’s safe in the future.” 

The level of comfort it gives me to celebrate with friends and family, with the confidence that neither I  nor my loved ones are in danger, is overwhelming. When was the last time that happened? When was  the last time any of us felt comfortable enough to hug an 80-year-old relative without fear of infection? 

Our skilled nursing facility residents are mostly vaccinated. But in Ohio, all but one of our 88  counties are back in the “red zone” of infection, and visitation is limited or forbidden again. Only 62% of  our staff are vaccinated. Yesterday, new COVID-19 cases reached nearly 8,000, a number that hasn’t been seen since January. Ohio comes in fourth nationally in COVID-related deaths.  

The latest federal requirement will see all SNF staff vaccinated, to the benefit, and detriment, of our buildings. Ninety-five percent immunity among 100% vaccinated staff means that of 100 staff members, only 5% will risk infection, and then likely have a mild case. But the chance of contagion drops sharply when the whole staff is vaccinated. 

The detriment to our buildings and residents is that those who refuse the vaccination will resign. Thanks to the recent announcement of a federal vaccination requirement for all healthcare workers, they can’t resign and work elsewhere in this industry. They won’t even be able to cross a state line and work in home health.

This is a demanding, yet necessary effort to not only control the pandemic, but to keep our residents and patients safe.

The medical assistant who took my blood at my doctor’s office won’t get vaccinated because she believes (one of the many) conspiracy theories about vaccines and fertility. She’s coming within contagion-distance of vulnerable patients every day. Staff like her will leave doctors’ offices, ALFs,  hospitals, LTACHs, home health, etc., now that there is a vaccine mandate for those jobs. Jobs that have fewer than 100 employees will be the only place where the unvaccinated can work. Expect those areas to be hotbeds of infection. 

So where will that leave the skilled nursing facilities whose staff members are still thinking about resigning? What good will it do to have fully vaccinated staff if there aren’t enough of them to give quality care to the residents? 

It’s important to let everyone know how the vaccine mandate affects our residents and our staff. It’s important that we provide education to those we entrust with our residents on the extreme safety and extreme effectiveness of the vaccine.

We can’t afford to lose a single person. We can’t afford to lose a  single patient.

Let them know how important it is to vaccinate to ensure the safety of our healthcare partners. This is not political. Viruses don’t care about anyone’s politics or anyone’s vote. Lethal viruses kill without concern about leaders and elections. We are within visual distance of the finish line. Don’t let this one get away. 

Full disclosure: I wore a mask through that whole wedding. I’m still not taking any chances.

Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, WCC, CKTP, CDP, TWD is the regional director of therapy operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.