Earlier this month new federal guidelines were released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that confirmed employers, including long term care operators, can require their staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment, with exemptions for medical or religious reasons. The EEOC also confirmed employers may provide incentives to employees to encourage them to participate in their vaccine program.
This has come as welcome news to many long term care providers who had already decided to, or were leaning towards, making the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for their employees. Other operators have been hesitant to do so while the vaccination is still under the emergency FDA approval. The EEOC has stated they don’t have jurisdiction to discuss the legal implications of this and refer those questioning to the FDA website, https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/vaccines/emergency-use-authorization-vaccines-explained. The other legal ramifications to consider are making sure you are following all state laws as it pertains to making the CVOID-19 vaccine mandatory as some are discussing making it illegal in their state to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for employees.
These updated Federal Guideline should prompt long term care providers to take a deep look at whether making the vaccine mandatory for their employees is the right decision for their facility. Mandating the vaccine could be a crucial first step in rebuilding the public trust in long term care facilities, which are looking to rebound from a decreasing census that was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. It would also go a long way to ensuring further protection for their residents, those people who are the most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Being able to market your facility as a fully vaccinated facility could be a key selling point for some families/residents who are looking for a rehab facility or long-term care placement for themselves or a loved one.
Whether opting to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory or not, facilities must continue to educate their employees on the vaccine, it’s effectiveness in preventing serious illness even if still contracting COVID-19, and the safety of the vaccine based on the trials completed, and those who have already received it over the last 6-9 months. Education and employee buy-in is key, even if making the vaccine mandatory. Offering incentives to encourage employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine have been proven to be effective for some operators resulting in increased percentages of their employees opting into their vaccination programs. There have been many different incentives reported, from bonus pay, to extra PTO day, to gift cards, all great ways to drive up vaccination rates.
As CMS starts to report, publicly, vaccination rates for long term care facilities, it will be more important than ever for facilities to be able to show they have high vaccination rates to regain public trust of their facility and to demonstrate the long-term care industries commitment to protecting our most vulnerable population. While the method of increasing employee vaccinations, through mandatory vaccinations or only incentives/education, is best decided by each individual operator, it is clear for the safety of their residents and for marketing to the public to rebuild trust, the higher percentage of employee vaccinations the better.