Ohio's nursing homes are bracing for potential staff exodus as the courts uphold a vaccine mandate

Officials at Ohio nursing homes and long-term care facilities are facing staff shortages due to a variety of factors. As they seek to take care of vulnerable populations, operators of these facilities are concerned people will quit due to the federal vaccine mandate that was upheld by the Supreme Court on Jan. 15, 2022. [triocean /Shutterstock]
Officials at Ohio nursing homes and long-term care facilities are facing staff shortages due to a variety of factors. As they seek to take care of vulnerable populations, operators of these facilities are concerned people will quit due to the federal vaccine mandate that was upheld by the Supreme Court on Jan. 15, 2022. [triocean /Shutterstock]

In Ohio, nursing homes are struggling to keep workers for a variety of reasons including low pay and some workers who are sick due to COVID-19.

Now, nursing homes operators are concerned the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday will add to their staffing shortages.

The courts upheld the Biden administration’s rule that requires health care systems that receive reimbursements from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), such as hospitals and nursing homes, must mandate vaccinations for employees or risk losing funding.

Officials at nursing homes and long-term care facilities are concerned people will quit due to the vaccine mandate, said Pete Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association. The association represents more than 1,000 long-term care facilities across the state.

“Many of our members are in a place where they’re not even able to serve as many people as they otherwise could because of not having enough staff," Van Runkle said.

The number of vaccinated employees at each nursing home varies, with some having a more than 90 percent vaccination rate and others having as low as 20 percent, Van Runkle said.

If even a fraction of the workers quit over the vaccine mandate, it could cause facilities to not be able to care for as many people, he said.

“Some of them have already left, just because this mandate was on the horizon. When it comes down to having a choice between getting vaccinated and keeping your job, some of them are going to choose to not be vaccinated and go work someplace else," Van Runkle said.

One of the other reasons long-term care facilities are already short-staffed is because of low pay. In Ohio, nursing home health aides make an average of $14.90/hour, for an average yearly salary of $31,000.

Nationally, the average is slightly higher, at $15.41/hour, according to May 2020 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Those who stay may see their wages increase, as the businesses fight to retain the staff they have, Van Runkle said.

Across industries, COVID-19 itself is also putting pressure on staffing levels as workers are exposed and sicken. Nursing homes are no exception.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) collects data on the number of current and cumulative cases of COVID-19 among staff and residents at long-term care facilities across the state. These figures include any resident or staff infection that was reported to ODH after April 15, 2020. 

The state health department says that the presence of COVID-19 at a facility “is no way an indicator of a facility that isn’t following proper procedures.” According to ODH, this data does not replace thoughtful conversation with facility staff about their infection control and mitigation strategies.

Below is a searchable database of COVID-19 cases among staff and residents at Ohio's nursing facilities. The data, which are reported to ODH weekly, was last updated on Wednesday. 

 

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