James M. Berklan, Editor

Of all the things you can accuse federal regulators of doing, there’s probably one thing that’s never been on the list. That would be, on Nov. 4, leap-frogging thoughts of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Festivus, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa and any other intervening holiday prior to New Year’s Day.

Or past it, actually, because Jan. 4 technically is not the day to celebrate a new year. 

This time, however, it might be the start of a new era. For sure, it won’t be just any old calendar page that will turn.

As you surely have heard by now, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has set January 4 as the deadline for nursing home and other healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While exacting a pound of flesh for non-compliance is not the goal, penalties for not having your staff 100% jabbed will be gradual but certain, a member of the brass at CMS impressed upon me Thursday.

All of long-term caredom, along with millions of other workers, anxiously awaited Thursday’s post-breakfast announcement. For some, it probably meant indigestion, but for many others, it gave reason to clank coffee cups.

Over the last 10 weeks, the national average vaccination rate among workers at nursing homes has risen from 62% to 71%. Thursday’s initiatives are clearly meant to put that number at least 15% or 20% higher — surely past the 75% summer goal that providers had set for themselves. This would be a very good thing, disagrees virtually no one.

The end of year is always a popular time to ponder one’s next moves, both personal and professional. This year that sentiment takes on more meaning than ever. There will be some heavy contemplation in many households this year.

The next two months will give vaccination-resistant workers plenty of time to see if expected legal challenges prevail or to find a job that doesn’t involve working with the most COVID-vulnerable population. It also will give employers time to either further educate and persuade more current staff members to get the jab or find some sort of alternative workarounds, be they new employees or new work processes.

To mix metaphors, the train is about to leave the station, and we’ll soon find out how many are on it.

Either the healthcare workplace is for you or it isn’t. The parameters have been set, nearly two years into the most dangerous pandemic in American history. While vaccinated people can still contract the virus or pass it on, the overwhelming results thus far show that they are much healthier, and much less dangerous to those around them. 

It might not be perfect, but as every coach I’ve ever had has said: You do the best you can with the tools you have at the time. Otherwise, you’re just that guy whose only words are a reflexive, “Yeah, but …” If the feds have, in effect, created untenable circumstances where vaccination rates remain low, they’ll have to attempt to figure out further accommodations. That doesn’t mean compromising on character or values built on the soundest current caregiving principles, however. If eldercare capacity temporarily dips because the greater community chooses not to play by the current rules needed to staff adequate care, then that community’s own loved ones could suffer. It could be as simple as that. Regulators and providers have made their choices; it might be time for the people themselves to determine whether or not they want functioning care facilities, based on the best principles of the time.

It may be early November, but what are the New Year’s resolutions going to be for you, your staff and your workplace?

James M. Berklan is McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Executive Editor.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s columns aren’t necessarily those of McKnight’s.