COLORADO, USA — A few months ago, Colorado long-term care facilities had a patchwork of COVID-19 vaccine mandates – some companies, and even one city, started requiring staff members get vaccinated while others had no mandate.
The Good Samaritan Society said only about 50% of their employees were vaccinated by mid-July. The company, which has a presence in 22 states, has seven facilities in Colorado.
“And, quite frankly, we were looking at having another Q4 like we did in 2020, where we saw nearly 1,000 employee and resident positive cases every day,” said VP of Operations, Nathan Schema. “We’re not going to do that again. We’re not going there, we need to find a way to keep our residents safe.”
So Good Samaritan joined the list of companies starting to require staff members to get a vaccine, with a deadline set by Nov. 1.
“We put that goal post out there a little ways, knowing we wanted to talk to employees, give them a little time,” Schema said. “But make no mistake, we wanted staff vaccinated ASAP.”
With weeks still before the deadline arrives, Good Samaritan said about 80% of its staff members are vaccinated and more than 90% of residents are. They’re proud of the increase so far, but are eager to see the rate hit 100% for employees.
Schema said some employees left, or considered leaving, due to the mandate. Others hired since have been vaccinated during the onboarding process. The company is promoting their mandate as an incentive as it recruits and retains employees.
“We believe we're one of the safest places to be right now,” Schema said. “I don’t know if there’s too many more jobs out there that can be any safer, with our number one goal of keeping all residents safe.”
“I feel like you can come to work every day and feel reassured. You’ve done everything you can, as far as COVID, to make sure everyone safe,” said Shanna Troncoso, director of nursing at Good Samaritan Ft. Collins Village.
She added, “Residents can feel comfortable that caregivers aren’t going to infect them with the virus. Coworkers, as well, and families of our residents. Then we can go home… and feel more safe and secure knowing we’ve gotten our vaccinations.”
Schema said new federal and state mandates have also helped “level the playing field” when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees. President Biden recently announced a federal vaccine mandate for nursing home workers, and later -- most healthcare workers.
And in August, the state board of health approved a vaccine requirement for staff at Colorado licensed healthcare facilities.
“The way things stand right now is, if you’re working in the majority of healthcare settings in this state, any licensed healthcare setting, you’ll need to be vaccinated by the end of October,” said Doug Farmer, president and CEO of Colorado Healthcare Association, which represents nursing homes and assisted living providers in Colorado.
“We wanted to be sure a vaccine mandate would cover all healthcare types, and not just a nursing home, long term care or any other segment of healthcare,” he continued.
“And the reason was, we were really concerned that, for those that didn’t want to become vaccinated, they could simply move from nursing homes to hospital setting, or home health environment or something of that nature. That would mean an already difficult workforce marketplace would only become tougher for one segment.”
More long-term care employees have been vaccinated in recent weeks. As of Sept. 14, CDPHE reports 77% of all current long-term care staff members are vaccinated and 93% of long-term care residents are vaccinated.
SNF: Skilled Nursing Facility
ALR: Assisted Living Facility
GH/ICF: Group Homes/Intermediate Care Facilities
ALL: All facilities combined
“It’s going in the right direction, for sure,” Farmer said.
Meanwhile, Good Samaritan Society is hosting a Hiring Day on Wednesday, with job openings at multiple locations across Colorado.
Schema said the company recognizes the decision to get vaccinated is a difficult one for some employees, but their top priority is protecting their elderly residents.
“This is incredibly hard, and certainly understand all of the things our employees are weighing as they contemplate their next steps and decisions are,” he said. “For our health system, the decision was all about keeping our residents at the forefront of what we do to keep them safe.”
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