Kimberly Marselas
Kimberly Marselas

I was listening earlier this week to an update on federal vaccine mandate challenges, which seem likely to send us on a roller coaster ride of emotions, preparedness and, potentially, disorganization, in the weeks ahead.

My reaction to the thrill-ride characterization was so visceral that I found myself gripping my pen as if it were the crossbar of the Sky Rush and we were entering a zero-gravity hill.

What really gets my heart racing is the idea that companies and state officials want the courts to help them avoid requiring COVID-19 vaccines that have saved countless lives. I’m not blind to the fact that those on the other side of the argument feel the same way about mandates even being proposed.

But whatever your view on mandates, the likelihood, according to most legal experts, is that the federal rule covering vaccinations for all healthcare workers is almost certain to stand.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration finds itself in newer waters, meaning challenges with any merit or in friendly jurisdictions could make it all the way to the nation’s top court. Still, if the rule requiring vaccines or routine testing option is indeed validated by the courts, companies — including many that serve nursing homes and organizations that operate both SNFs and assisted living or other independent living settings — must be ready to roll.

That means there can be no letting up in terms of preparation, despite what you think might happen with any of the above-mentioned regulations. Providers who hope and pray rather than research and plan will find themselves facing fines and public scrutiny if they come down on the wrong side of the ultimate decisions.

As we rush headlong into the first twists and turns, I can’t help think of lyrics from one of my favorite songs from the 1990s:

“Hold on

Hold on to yourself

For this is gonna hurt like hell.”

There might be no more fitting advice for those who have resisted adopting their own mandates or are reasonably fearful of what these federal regulations could do to their labor pool.

Full vaccination of staff, even in areas where numbers fall way below the national average, is the pain long-term care must endure to get past the worst of COVID-19. It is key to recovery for an industry that remains scarred, both emotionally and reputationally, from nearly two years of pandemic injuries.

And, while it might not seem like it on this day, the last round of fights over the mandates will be short-lived in the overall COVID timeline. 

By the time we get into December and January, all of this will likely have been resolved one way or the other. Our heart rates will return to normal, and we’ll begin building fresh stores of adrenaline for the next COVID curveball that comes hurtling toward us at 90 mph.

And, as with the last two years and all the decades before that, providers will find a way to continue caring for those who need them most. We know it’s the questions about how to move forward — beyond all the loop-de-loops and skyscraper-height drops — that keep you up at night.

So forgive me if I invoke that Canadian chanteuse Sarah McLachlan again:

“I lie awake and pray

That you’ll be strong tomorrow

And will see another day.”

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.