“Vaccinate or we will withhold funding,” was the message sent to long-term care facilities when President Joe Biden announced a potential mandate last week. Burwell Community Memorial Health Center (CMHC) Senior Administrator Tim Groshans spoke with KCNI/KBBN about the potential mandate and said a mandate was not the answer.
“There’s a substantial difference in allowing leadership at long term care facilities to work with their staff on a one-on-one, person to person basis to try the right thing to do to protect our residents versus a presidential mandate that truly targets long term care facilities without giving any regards to the difficultly we have with workforce challenges anyway,” said Groshans.
From a leadership perspective, Groshans said he has felt as though his hands were now tied on how the organization can move forward.
“I felt like it handcuffed me in being able to work with my staff to understand their individual needs and concerns and come up with a process that would work for unvaccinated staff members, whether that be increased scrutiny and timing of the testing, maybe more PPE usage, better screenings. I think we could have looked at some of the things and got the employees more comfortable with the vaccine versus a presidential mandate that only targeted long-term care facilities,” Groshans remarked. “To me, it just missed the mark.”
Groshans said that while he is against the potential mandate’s ability to limit discussing options with his staff, he understands the short-term thinking behind the order.
“It’s a bit short-sided on what its intention was. I do agree the intention is something we should all strive for and have been striving for. We have put $200 bonuses out there for our staff just to get the vaccine,” said Groshans.
He also noted they have given gas cards and gift cards to food establishments to staff that has received the vaccine, but that has not worked either. Groshans said they have been trying to encourage staff to get vaccinated and have tried to get creative, but in the end, the decision was made without any thought about the rural area. According to Our World in Data, vaccination numbers in Nebraska have been just below the national average of 52.6%, but in the western part of the state vaccination rates are below 34% and in some counties, the rate is less than 25%.
Groshans said this will make it extremely difficult to find vaccinated staff, if those on staff continue to refuse the vaccine.
“Even if my employees refuse, where am I going to get my workforce? They are all unvaccinated, so not only do we take the risk of losing our unvaccinated employees there is no regard as to where you are going to get them [vaccinated employees],” said Groshans.
He also said that it may come down to competitive hiring and going after vaccinated employees at other long-term care facilities. “I just don’t think that is healthy for our profession.”
According to a press release from the National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) believe the mandate would level the playing field while the NAHCA says the opposite. In their release, the NAHCA says with the mandate only targeting long-term care facilities, non-vaccine-requiring facilities could ‘poach’ staff from nursing homes. They also say that long-term facilities often send residents out to hospitals and treatment centers that are not currently included in the vaccine mandate.
Lori Porter, Co-Founder and CEO of NAHCA said, “Only requiring nursing homes to mandate is like trying to fix your broken bicycle while riding it. Residents will be exposed and continue to bring the virus back into the nursing homes.”
To make things even more complicated, Nebraska health officials have recently began recruiting unvaccinated nurses. According to an article from The New York Times, advertisements have been sent to registered nurses, ads are showing up on Facebook and on state job sites saying: “$5,000 sign-on bonus!” and “No mandated COVID-19 vaccinations.” The ads are for positions in veterans’ homes, psychiatric treatment facilities, and other locations.
“We’re getting imposed by the federal government you better do this, and yet the state is going after our employees,” said Groshans. “It is so broke.”
Groshans also noted that this entire ordeal has built barriers between unvaccinated staff and vaccinated staff. He said this has ramped up the emotions on both sides and created an issue where those that suffer are the residents.
“That’s just not conducive to delivering high-end healthcare when you staff is essentially pitted against each other,” he said. “To me, it just doesn’t feel right.”
Groshans expects CMS will make a decision regarding the President’s announcement in the next couple of weeks.