EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated from its original form to include modified language about the association’s stance on vaccination mandates.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living came out Thursday morning in support of providers who make COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers a condition of employment. The group added its voice to an issue that heated up this week, though the association came up short of the all-out endorsement announced by dozens of other healthcare groups and organizations earlier this week.

“AHCA/NCAL supports all providers that adopt mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for healthcare personnel, with state and local regulations and circumstances shaping whether and how these policies are implemented,” the organization announced. “Each state and facility must make the best decision for their specific circumstances.”

The policy from the organization, representing about 14,000 skilled nursing and assisted living providers, is less strongly worded than one advanced by LeadingAge earlier this week. AHCA/NCAL noted in its announcement that it “strongly urges” vaccinations but also that the pandemic had already exacerbated workforce challenges and is creating anxiety within the senior living and care industry.

“Vaccine mandates may further challenge providers trying to recruit and retain a qualified workforce,” AHCA/NCAL said. “We renew our call for state and federal governments to enact solutions to help address these long-standing workforce challenges.”

AHCA/NCAL encouraged long-term care providers implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies to:

  • Provide exemptions for medical and religious reasons and accommodations consistent with Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines;
  • Ensure the policy is implemented in a manner consistent with local and state laws;
  • Follow requirements and guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on which individuals are eligible and should be prioritized for vaccination;
  • Monitor national safety and efficacy data for all FDA-authorized or approved vaccines in use; and
  • Continue providing education about the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines to encourage staff to obtain the vaccine voluntarily “in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner.”

AHCA also suggested providers offer scheduling flexibility or time off to ensure personnel have time to obtain the vaccine and recover from possible side effects.

“The development of effective and safe vaccines has dramatically reduced COVID-19 cases and the severity of illness in long-term care,” AHCA/NCAL noted. “However, as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads, unvaccinated individuals remain at high risk and can spread the virus to others, including vaccinated individuals. Our residents are some of the most vulnerable individuals to the consequences of contracting COVID-19.”

In December, AHCA/NCAL launched the #GetVaccinated campaign to encourage uptake among both residents and staff, and the organization aligned with LeadingAge to push for a goal of 75% staff vaccination coverage before July 1.

Data reported to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as of July 11 showed 58.4% of all U.S. nursing home staff had been vaccinated.

Earlier this week, the CDC said preliminary data from its National Healthcare Safety Network indicate SNF residents living in buildings where staff vaccination is 75% or lower experience higher crude rates of preventable COVID infection.

“More needs to be done,” AHCA/NCAL acknowledged today.

On Monday, LeadingAge, representing about 5,000 non-profit aging services providers, issued its own endorsement of COVID-19 vaccines and joined more than 50 other organizations in calling for mandates for all healthcare personnel.

“We call for all healthcare and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” the joint statement said. “This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all healthcare workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being.”

Please check back for updates to this developing story.