A vial of SARS-CoV2 COVID-19 vaccine in a medical research laboratory

The Sioux Falls, SD-based Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society is the latest senior living and care organization — and one of the largest yet — to mandate COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment.

In an email to employees on Thursday, Bill Gassen, president and CEO of Good Sam parent company Sanford Health, said that requiring Good Sam and other Sanford employees to get a “game-changing vaccine” is “the right thing to do.” 

“As more contagious COVID-19 variants continue to spread and threaten our communities, we must do everything we can to protect each other and our loved ones,” he wrote.

According to the 2020 LeadingAge Ziegler 200, Good Sam is the No. 2 not-for-profit multi-site senior living organization in the United States by total senior living units, including independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, and life plan community beds/units. The organization is No. 2 as far as assisted living units; No. 3 as far as independent living units; and No. 1 as far as skilled nursing beds.

Sanford Health Chief Physician Jeremy Cauwels, M.D., noted Thursday in a statement that almost all new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated individuals. 

“The overwhelming data confirms that the vaccines are not only safe but the best and most reliable way to prevent transmission of the virus,” Cauwels said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that this is absolutely the safest way to move forward, the safest way to take care of our people, the safest way to take care of our patients, the safest way to take care of our residents.”

COVID cases elsewhere suggest the importance of vaccination, In Colorado, several senior living and care facilities are at the center of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 investigation, with public health officials zeroing in on unvaccinated staff as the cause of breakthrough cases.

And at Heartis San Antonio Assisted Living and Memory Care in San Antonio, TX, reported last week that 31 residents and 11 staff members are in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. All of the residents were fully vaccinated, whereas only four of the staff members were fully vaccinated. Three of the staff members have had their first dose of the vaccine, whereas four staff members are not vaccinated, the company said. 

Sanford Health, its website indicates, employs 47,757 people, including those who work at 233 senior living communities, 42 affordable housing locations and 158 skilled nursing and rehab facilities. More than 90% of Sanford Health clinicians and 70% of its nurses are fully vaccinated, according to the organization.

Under the new policy, unvaccinated employees have until Nov. 1 to be vaccinated. Exemptions will be made for medical or religious reasons.

Earlier this week, the American Hospital Association announced its support of mandatory employee vaccination policies for all healthcare workers. And experts from seven professional organizations representing long-term care and other clinical specialists recently released evidence-based recommendations that COVID-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for U.S. long-term care and other healthcare workers. 

Several senior living companies already have COVID-19 vaccine mandates in place. In addition to Good Sam, among them are ALG Senior, American House Senior Living Communities, The Arbor Co., Atria Senior Living, Civitas Senior Living, Enlivant, Five Star Senior Living, IntegraCare, Integral Senior Living, JEA Senior Living, Jewish Home Family, Juniper Communities, Masonicare, Presbyterian Senior Living, Retirement Center Management, Silverado, Sunrise Senior Living, Trilogy Health Services, Trinity Health, Vi Living and Wesley Enhanced Living

Trinity’s mandate goes further than some and includes not only staff members but also contractors and others conducting business in facilities. Additional operators have said they are planning to mandate COVID-19 vaccination once the vaccine receives full approval from the FDA.