President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden announced late Wednesday afternoon that U.S. nursing homes must use workers vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk losing vital Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Providers immediately criticized the announcement for not including other healthcare sectors in the mandate.

“Vaccination mandates for healthcare personnel should be applied to all healthcare settings. Without this, nursing homes face a disastrous workforce challenge,” said American Health Care Association President and CEO Mark Parkinson in a prepared statement that was echoed by LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan.

“Focusing only on nursing homes will cause vaccine hesitant workers to flee to other healthcare providers and leave many centers without adequate staff to care for residents. It will make an already difficult workforce shortage even worse,” Parkinson added. “The net effect of this action will be the opposite of its intent and will affect the ability to provide quality care to our residents.”

Added Sloan: “We are on wartime footing. Defunding the care providers who continue to fight on the frontlines would be a tragic misstep.”

Staff vaccination rates lagging

Overall nursing home staff vaccination rates have lagged around 60%, with many far below that, according to federal statistics. Nursing home residents, whose individual conditions combined with other circumstances, have accounted for approximately one-third of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S.

“I’m using the power of the federal government as a payer of healthcare costs to ensure we reduce those risks for our most vulnerable seniors. These steps are all about keeping people safe and out of harm’s way,” Biden said in a press conference from the White House. “Now if you visit, live or work in a nursing home you should not be at a high risk of contracting COVID from unvaccinated employees.” 

More than 130,000 nursing home residents have died from COVID, he noted, adding that a study has shown that a “highly vaccinated nursing home staff” is associated with “at least 30% less COVID cases among long-term care residents.”

New regulations apply to over 1 million workers

These new regulations would apply to more than 15,000 Medicare- or Medicaid-certified nursing facilities, which employ approximately 1.3 million workers and serve approximately 1.6 million nursing home residents.

The administration edict carries powerful implications for providers. About 60% of all nursing home care is paid for by Medicaid, with about 20% more by Medicare.

It was not immediately clear how regulators expect to audit or enforce the newly announced mandate. CMS said in a statement that guidance would be coming in September, when new rules are expected to go into full effect.

“CMS strongly encourages nursing home residents and staff members to get vaccinated as the Agency undergoes the necessary steps in the rule-making process over the course of the next several weeks,” the statement said. “CMS expects nursing home operators to act in the best interest of residents and their staff by complying with these new rules, which the Agency expects to issue in September.”

Agency officials said they also expect operators to “use all available resources to support employees in getting vaccinated, including employee education and vaccination clinics, as they work to meet this staff vaccination requirement.”

To read the full story, visit McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.