Two nursing home providers in separate areas of the United States were able to far exceed  national averages for COVID-19 vaccination among staff members, despite using contrasting methods — a $1,000 bonus in one building and a vaccine mandate in the other. 

Both recently detailed successes with their respective efforts, which led to nearly the same uptake rate.

Condition of employment

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for all of us as providers to take this step,” Andrew Banoff, president and CEO of Jewish Senior Services, said during a LeadingAge webinar Thursday. “It is the only way to deliver the message to our current and future clients that their safety comes first.” 

The Connecticut-based operator started requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment for all its workers May 1, which has resulted in 95% uptake from its staff members. Banoff reported 92% of residents are vaccinated. 

Some providers have stayed away from vaccine mandates due to legal uncertainties since the doses are approved for emergency use and not under full authorization. (Pfizer on Monday started the process of gaining full federal approval for its COVID-19 vaccine.)

Jewish Senior Services has lost about 15 to 20 workers, out of 750, who refused to comply with the policy. Banoff noted that “refusers” were among the most vocal group that didn’t want to be vaccinated and their reasonings mostly involved misinformation. 

“For many people, it came down to discussions with their colleagues who wanted to see them get vaccinated and shared their own vaccine experiences. There were discussions in minority communities and among faith communities – it wasn’t just what we did here,” he said. “Within our organizational culture, in every single department, we nearly literally held people’s hands while they got their shots.”

Cash solution 

The Gardens at DePugh Nursing Center in Winter Park in Winter Park, FL, went a different route and used the promise of an $1,000 total bonus to encourage workers to get vaccinated. 

The provider promised everyone who took the first shot would get $100. But it was only after at least 75% of the entire staff received a second shot that workers received the other $900.  

The move paid off, with the operator reporting a 92% vaccination rate for staff. 

“Cash talks,” Rick Baldwin, board chairman, told local media last week.

The total cost of providing bonuses to all staffers is about $40,000 — or 1% of the facility’s annual operating budget, according to the report. That’s worth it, Baldwin said. 

“I’ve been a conservative businessman my whole life,” he said. “This makes sense. I point out with great pride that we did not have a single infection ever of any of our residents.”