A vial of SARS-CoV2 COVID-19 vaccine in a medical research laboratory
Credit: Getty Images

Employees at the nation’s largest nursing home chain could be fired if they don’t get the COVID-19 vaccine under a new policy announced by the company late Monday. 

“While we would have greatly preferred a strictly voluntary process, our commitment to health and safety outweighs concerns about imposing a requirement,” Harry Wilson, Genesis HealthCare’s CEO, said in a statement widely distributed Tuesday. 

Genesis HealthCare CEO Harry Wilson

“Universal COVID-19 vaccination provides the safest and most effective course of action to ensure the health and welfare of our patients, residents and staff,” he added. 

The policy applies to all of Genesis’ approximately 70,000 employees, plus volunteers, care partners and onsite vendors. It requires individuals to have a single dose of the Janssen vaccine or first dose of the two-dose mRNA vaccine by Aug. 23 and second shot by Sept. 22.

A Genesis spokeswoman explained there are two potential valid exemptions for those who decline the COVID-19 vaccine: medical or religious. 

“If an exemption is not granted, the unvaccinated employee may be subject to termination,” the spokeswoman told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Tuesday. 

Genesis’ move follows a growing number of long-term care operators who have announced mandatory vaccination policies. Nonprofit long-term care giant Good Samaritan, the fifth-largest nursing home company in the U.S., announced its mandatory vaccination policy July 22.

The issue of mandatory vaccines has been controversial, however. Some experts believe mandates can help boost staff vaccine uptake and even attract more workers to the industry. Others say the move could backfire at a time where staffing shortages continue to plague the industry. 

Current COVID-19 vaccination rates among long-term care staff is 58.6%, according to the most recent federal data. Genesis has been able to achieve a 65% vaccination rate among its employees, Wilson said

Despite the above-average vaccination rates, the growing spread of the delta variant helped push the new condition of employment.

“Our move to adopt universal vaccination is an incredibly important decision, and we very seriously weighed the competing concerns before proceeding down this path,” Wilson said. 

“Our highest priority is for every Genesis-affiliated center across the country to have a relentless focus on serving our patients and residents with high-quality care, in safety, security and comfort, and with respect and dignity.”