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Long-term care leaders support state and federal vaccine requirements, but fear potential staffing shortages

According to CDC data, 73% of nursing home staff are have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Maine nursing home staff will need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1

MAINE, USA — Following Governor Mills mandate for all health care workers in Maine to be vaccinated by October 1, this week President announced an order for nursing homes to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funds, and staff must be fully vaccinated.

"If you visit, live or work in a nursing home, you should not be at a high risk for contracting COVID from unvaccinated employees," said President Biden at a press conference Wednesday.

Now leaders in Maine's nursing home and long term care community are responding to the mandates. Many are showing support for the calls to vaccinate, but are concerned it will impact staffing.

"I think everyone understands the importance of getting vaccinated, right. We're taking care of the oldest, the frailest and potentially the sickest of Maine residents," Angela Westhoff, the president and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association.

According to Maine CDC data, 73% of nursing home staff in Maine are vaccinated. 

"We have to do everything we can to protect people who are vulnerable," said Jess Maurer, executive director of the Maine Council on Aging.

"Everybody agrees that it's ideal for every staff person to be vaccinated in a long term care facility to protect the residents," added Maurer. "The reality is that some portion of people are not going to get vaccinated, and they are no longer going to be employed, and we are really concerned that the staffing ratios are going to fall so low that facilities across Maine are going to close."

Maurer says that nursing homes across Maine have already been battling staffing shortages for years. She says if staff leave due to the vaccine mandate, it could force facilities to close due to lack of staffing. She agrees however that vaccine's are the most effective method of fighting COVID-19 and encourages everyone to get one to protect Maine's most vulnerable.

A recent study conducted by the Maine Medical Directors Association prior to the state and federal vaccine mandates being announced found that more than 63% of responding long term care facilities would consider a vaccine mandate if not for staffing issues.

"The vast majority thought that would impacting their staffing if they were to mandate," said Jabbar Fazeli, MD, the vice president of the Maine MDA. Fazeli is also a practicing physician with Maine Geriatric and is working in nursing homes and long term care facilities on a daily basis. He says he fully supports a vaccine mandate for nursing home staff.

"I think the first priority it to protect the residents and the facility," said Fazeli.

"We hope that the impact to workforce isn't detrimental to the care of patients and residents, and that it remains to be seen. But again, it's really important to get vaccinated," said Westhoff. 

Neither MHCA, MMDA, MCOA are against the mandate. The organizations that work closely with long term care facilities and nursing homes, however, fear the impact the mandate could potentially have.