An Ohio skilled nursing and assisted living operator with more than 2,000 employees says it is “joining a growing industry trend” and mandating employee COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment.

A Continuing Healthcare Solutions staff member receives the COVID vaccine.

Continuing Healthcare Solutions late last week announced that it is now making COVID vaccines mandatory for all of its employees across its 27 skilled nursing facilities and four free-standing assisted living facilities in Ohio. The Middleburg Heights, OH-based operator is one of several long-term care operators that have instituted a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees.

The mandate requires all employees to receive their first-round vaccination by June 1.

The company has been discussing the move for some time and the decision did not come lightly, said Benjamin Parsons, president and managing partner with Continuing Healthcare Solutions. The move was not prompted by any recent event or outbreak, he added. 

“We considered the scientific research into the safety of the vaccines, which has been exhaustive and consistent, and the experience of our own staffers who have been vaccinated and experienced only the anticipated soreness and minor side effects,” Parsons told McKnight’s on Friday. 

“It became clear to us that requiring staff vaccinations is part of our moral and ethical duty to keep the residents who have been entrusted in our care and the employees who we need and value safe,” he explained. 

The company does not plan to release specific vaccination rates among its employees due to “privacy concerns,” but Parsons noted that participation so far among employees has been around the average national figures for long-term care workers of 40%. 

Exceptions will be allowed

The only exceptions to the mandate will be for workers who have medical or religious reasons. Parsons explained that an employee who opts not to get the vaccine on those grounds will still always have to meet current personal protective equipment requirements “no matter how those standards might change moving forward.” 

“As we’ve all learned, COVID-19 is a dangerous and persistent threat. We continue doing everything we can with visitation rules, use of PPE, monitoring our employees’ health and enhanced sanitation to keep our employees and residents safe. But we know the threat is not over. The pandemic is not over,” Parsons said. “Quite simply, we all need to get the shot.” 

He said there’s “too much misinformation about the vaccines out there, particularly on social media.” The operator plans to to work with employees who still have doubts or fears about the vaccine.

“We understand and respect that some people have been cautious and hesitant to get a vaccination during the early rounds. But science and experience show us the benefits far outweigh any risk,” he said. 

“We’re ready to sit down with any employee and talk about the facts,” he continued. “And we hope we don’t lose a single employee from this. Because we know getting the vaccination is the best way to keep our employees safe. But we’re also going to be clear: This is mandatory for our employees.” 

Legal concerns 

Legal and ethical debates regarding COVID-19 vaccine mandates have swirled throughout the long-term care industry — with the center of debate being that current COVID vaccines are still under emergency use authorization. Some have cautioned that employers should wait until full federal approval is granted before mandating vaccines to avoid potential legal troubles.

Continuing Healthcare Solutions representatives said they don’t have much concern about the issue because of the number of clinical trials and amount of testing the vaccines have undergone already. They also stand by the support they’ve received from top scientists and epidemiologists, Parsons said. 

“It does not mean these vaccines are being given to people without being tested rigorously. We also now have months of experience administering the vaccines,” he explained. “We know that the vaccines have met these tests. We also know what COVID-19 can do — kill people in the hundreds of thousands. It’s time to get the vaccine.”

For additional coverage, check out our sister site McKnight’s Senior Living.