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WASHINGTON — Nursing homes that employ unvaccinated workers will soon be ineligible for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday. This mandate comes as the federal government ramps up its efforts to vaccinate more Americans who have refused the COVID-19 protection to date.
The president said the Department of Health and Human Services will require across-the-board employee vaccinations as soon as next month for any nursing homes that want to continue to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. Most nursing homes rely on federal assistance significantly.
In February, the American Health Care Association, which represents the nursing home/ assisted living facility industry, announced a goal of 75 percent of staff vaccinated by June 30. However, less than 60 percent of nursing home staff were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the percentage of vaccinated workers has barely changed since the end of May and has even decreased in recent weeks, meaning either vaccinated staff have left their jobs or the homes are hiring unvaccinated people.
In response, Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog with the Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, said:
“We applaud the move to get more nursing home staff vaccinated. This will save lives. We’re talking about the most vulnerable people in our country. No one who’s unvaccinated should be allowed to feed, bathe or come into direct contact with residents. It’s unconscionable.
“As we all saw, nursing homes were an early hot spot for COVID, and we risk reigniting this trend with the Delta variant. While nursing homes contain less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. population, they’ve produced nearly 2 percent of COVID cases and 21 percent of deaths to date. Meanwhile, nearly 600,000 nursing home staff have contracted COVID and 1,994 have died, the CDC says. It didn’t have to be this way and it’s time to stop it.
“In March, our research found that COVID cases in nursing homes dropped by 83 percent among residents and 81 percent among staff in the eight weeks after the first vaccinations in nursing homes. The vaccines are effective and safe, and for months, they’ve been widely available. There are no excuses now. The vaccines are even more important now because the Delta variant is more than twice as contagious and can cause more severe illness than previous variants.
“We understand a very small number of people can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons. Other than these rare exceptions, no unvaccinated staff or visitors should be allowed in nursing homes. We can’t allow COVID to ravage nursing homes again.”
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