In a hiring crisis, Pa. nursing homes push back against Biden’s vaccine mandate | Friday Coffee
Trade groups said the industry already is struggling to keep workers – and fear that the White House’s vaccine mandate will make it worse
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Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
President Joe Biden spoke loudly and wielded a pretty big stick earlier this week as the administration announced that nursing homes from coast to coast would be required to get their employees vaccinated or risk losing federal Medicaid and Medicare money.
“I’m using the power of the federal government as a payer of health care costs to ensure we reduce those risks for our most vulnerable seniors,” Biden said during a news conference detailing new federal actions, according to Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson.
“If you visit, live or work in a nursing home, you should not be at a high risk of contracting COVID from unvaccinated employees,” Biden added.
The announcement came at a heady time for Pennsylvania’s nursing home industry, which has appealed to state officials for several budget cycles now that the state needs to channel more of its share of Medicaid money to the industry.
Unions representing nursing home workers stretched thin by the pandemic also have pressed for changes in state rules governing staffing ratios and other key matters. The Wolf administration rolled out its first round of fixes during a news conference in July.
The changes, according to organized labor, are long overdue.
“Our union members have had to keep up with working under the pandemic’s weight, but they are spread thin, taking on double shifts just so that residents receive the care they deserve,” Chris Woods, president of District 1199c of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, wrote in a Capital-Star op-Ed in April.
In statements released in the wake of the administration’s announcement, trade groups representing the state’s nursing home industry denounced the mandate, saying it would “exacerbate” existing workforce issues across the industry.
“Assistance and collaboration – not threats or punishment – will lead to success and sustainability in long-term care, whether it’s solving a workforce crisis or increasing vaccine acceptance rates amongst staff,” Zach Shamberg, president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said in a statement.
The White House’s order “has the potential to exacerbate an existing workforce crisis and jeopardize access to care for tens of thousands of vulnerable residents throughout Pennsylvania. Providers are already being forced to limit new admissions,” Shamberg added.
Adam Marles, the head of LeadingAge Pa., another trade group, said his organization was “supportive of the federal mandate,” but “[remained] concerned about the negative impact this may have on an already worsening hiring crisis. The vaccines are safe – and they work. Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of the older adults we serve.”
He added that his group had “encouraged our members to mandate vaccination because it’s the best way to keep both residents and staff safe, but we acknowledged the flexibility needed by individual providers to make choices based on their circumstances.”
SEIU Healthcare, which represents registered nurses across state government, already has come out in support of a recent Wolf administration edict requiring frontline commonwealth employees to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
In a statement at the time, the union said the administration’s order “reinforces our shared goal to make sure all healthcare workers have the education, opportunity, and protection to keep them and those they care for safe from the virus.”
“We are ready to put our voices forward in the discussion and plan for universal vaccination in our workplaces,” John Berezansky, a registered nurse at the state Health Department, and a union member, said in a statement. “It is imperative that caregivers on the frontlines guide this process. We must make sure medical personnel always have access to proper PPE, sanitization supplies, a safe workspace and education. We believe that all workers should receive education, access, and paid time off to get vaccinated.”
On Thursday, SEIU Healthcare’s president, Matthew Yarnell, offered a similar sentiment, saying that the union “recommends that all essential workers and working people take the vaccine and that education, easy access and transparency be prioritized in vaccine distribution.
“[We] will continue our work with federal and state leaders, healthcare providers and community organizations to help educate our communities to ensure everyone knows the facts about the vaccine, its benefits and its necessity,” Yarnell continued.
As the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported last week, Wolf’s vaccine order has split unions, some of whom have chosen to bargain over the requirement, while others, such as the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association, have chosen to sue.
That local schism is reflective of a broader divide in labor over the question of vaccine mandates.
At the nationwide level, the AFL-CIO said it fully supports vaccine mandates, Bloomberg Law reported late last month. The American Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, said it would oppose any plan that didn’t leave the choice to workers and unions, according to Bloomberg.
“There’s a larger principle that many unions are reacting to,” Paul Clark, a labor and employment professor at Penn State, told Bloomberg. “The whole purpose of unions is to give workers some control and some voice about what happens in the workplace.”
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Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:
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What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.
Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.
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