Information Four Examines Evaluation: Most Nursing Houses in WNY Report Worker Vaccination Charges Under 75%
Most nursing homes in western New York have a long way to go in complying with mandates to vaccinate all health workers at some point within the next month.
While nursing homes in New York report higher overall vaccination rates for workers than the national average (60% nationally vs. 67% in New York), some in western New York are falling far behind.
A News 4 examines an analysis of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The latest data found that three quarters of the 70 nursing homes in our region that reported staff vaccination rates to CMS are below 75%, which is known as the herd immunity threshold.
In fact, four local nursing homes reported vaccination rates below 40% of employees.
“I’m disappointed,” said Dr. Thomas Russo, an infectious disease expert at the University of the Jacobs School of Medicine in Buffalos.
“I would like to see a high percentage of people vaccinated in all places in this country, right? The unvaccinated are largely driving the surge we are seeing right now, and it cannot be more important than in environments where people are particularly at risk, such as nursing homes.
On the flip side, News 4 Investigates’ analysis found that a quarter of local nursing homes reported a vaccination rate of 75% or more of staff, including one where 97.7% of staff were vaccinated.
Some industry experts fear that the employee vaccination mandate could exacerbate the staffing crisis that nursing homes are facing.
Dane Henning, spokesman for the National Association of Health Care Assistants, told News 4 that they estimate nursing homes could lose between 20% and 30% of their workforce because of the vaccine mandate. Nursing homes that fail to meet the mandate could face a fine or loss of federal funds, which Henning said would be “devastating.”
“Will the penalty or the fine or the fee be negligible?” Said Henning.
“Is business getting paralyzed? Will it be a sliding scale? And until we get this answer, we won’t really be able to know. “
Nursing home experts blamed both the lack of a comprehensive education program and the political rhetoric for the reluctance of workers to get vaccinated.
“There have been political leaders, both nationally and elsewhere, who have questioned the effectiveness of vaccination, which raised doubts from the start about what was in no one’s interests,” said Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of New York State Health Facilities Association that represents hundreds of nursing homes across the state.
“And all along, we’ve been saying that the data shows that it is very safe.”
In fact, one of the early skeptics was former Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned earlier this month in response to a burgeoning sexual harassment scandal.
“Honestly, I’m not going to trust the federal government’s opinion and I wouldn’t recommend New York to New Yorkers based on the federal government’s opinion,” Cuomo said on Sept. 24, 2020 after the Trump administration announced that the federal government could start with the launch of the vaccine much earlier than expected.
At that point, Cuomo said the state would do its own review of the vaccines to make sure they are safe.
Ultimately, this state body determined that the vaccines were safe.
The good news
Despite the low vaccination rates of staff at some nursing homes in the region, Russo said the good news is that far fewer Covid-19-related deaths are reported in nursing homes compared to earlier in the pandemic.
The latest data for the week ending August 8th shows:
- None of the nursing homes in the region reported deaths for the week.
- Seven nursing homes in the region reported that eight employees had Covid-19 this week.
- Two nursing homes in this region reported that two residents had been infected with Covid-19 this week.
“Fortunately, we will never see the situation that emerged at the beginning of this pandemic, when so many of our nursing home residents were infected and had poor results,” said Russo.
It is also noteworthy that most nursing homes reported much higher rates among vaccinated residents, in some cases almost twice as high as among workers.
In west New York, approximately 88% of nursing home residents and 63% of staff are vaccinated, according to the latest nursing home CMS data reported to the federal agency.
The top 3 nursing homes in our region with the highest vaccination rates for staff are:
- Eden Rehabilitation and Care Center, Eden, at 97.7%.
- Humboldt-Haus Rehabilitation and Care Center, Buffalo, at 89.4%.
- Orchard Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Medina, at 85%.
The not so good news
The latest CMS data shows 15,280 nursing homes reporting vaccination rates as of August 8. Of these, 3,854 nursing homes reported staff vaccination rates of or over 75%.
In other words, only 25% of nursing homes in the country have achieved herd immunity.
In New York the picture is a little brighter.
Of the 615 nursing homes that submitted data to the federal government, 172 had vaccination rates of 75% or better for staff.
In other words, only 28% of New York nursing homes reported vaccination rates for staff of 75% or more.
There are 54 nursing homes in West New York with staff vaccination rates below 75%.
The top 3 nursing homes with the lowest vaccination rates for staff are:
- Ellicott Center for Rehab and Nursing, Buffalo, at 29.1%.
- Safire Rehab Northtowns, Tonawanda, at 31.6%.
- Buffalo Community Healthcare Center at 36.9%.
The Safire and Buffalo Community Health Center did not return messages asking for comments.
An Ellicott Center spokesman said the facility’s administrators had strongly encouraged staff to get vaccinated and made them aware of the vaccine’s validity.
“The Ellicott Center recognizes that they are part of a regional and national situation where the vaccination participation of nursing home staff is low, but on the other hand we are grateful that the vaccination rate among residents is better,” said spokesman Jeff Jacomowitz.
Russo, the infectious disease expert, said while he thinks the overwhelming benefits of vaccination have been widely advertised, specific public outreach efforts should be the first step in increasing vaccination rates among health workers, especially in nursing homes.
“Going to nursing homes and explaining to them why this is so important for both staff and residents, and if the desired results are not being achieved, then I think the discussion about mandatory vaccines needs to start,” said Russo.
Industry experts don’t disagree.
Hanse of the New York State Health Facilities Association said the industry and its government partners can be blamed for the lack of an educational component in the early stages of vaccine adoption.
“We need to do a better job in partnership on training individuals and put together a comprehensive plan,” he said.
“Really, that plan didn’t exist as we go back to 2020.”
In addition, the political rhetoric about the vaccines did not help convince people to get the vaccination, Hanse said.
“They had people at the highest levels in the New York state government questioning the effectiveness of the vaccination without real data on it,” he said.
“When the data came out, it was clear that the vaccines were complete and very safe. But this doubt was already sown. “
The other concern is that nursing home workers may be firing or being fired because of vaccination requirements.
“They’ll just hop around, go to home nursing or do something else, and that will leave nursing homes very, very understaffed,” said Henning, spokesman for the Federation of Health Assistants.
“So the nursing home stays open at best, but the residents, the people we are all supposed to look after, could possibly receive even worse care than what they are already receiving, and we all” know the public’s perception anyway of nursing homes. “
In order to prevent nursing home workers from leaving, Hanse said the state mandate must prescribe vaccinations throughout the health sector, not just in hospitals and nursing homes, but also in medical practices and emergency centers.
“To really have an effective mandate, it really has to be applied to the entire New York health continuum,” said Hanse.
“Because a nurse can work in a hospital who doesn’t want to be vaccinated; they could leave that hospital and go to a dialysis center or doctor’s office and work there and not be mandated. So it limits this flexibility if it applies to everyone. “
The state health ministry has not mandated vaccines for workers in all health sectors, but on Thursday morning it announced a substitute mandate that more health care workers be vaccinated, not just those in nursing homes and hospitals.
The state health ministry told News 4 that the Public Health and Health Planning Council unanimously passed emergency regulations on Thursday mandating that “all employees of certain DOH-licensed facilities be vaccinated against COVID-19.”
DOH licensed facilities subject to these regulations include: hospitals, nursing homes, diagnostic and treatment centers, adult care facilities, certified home health authorities, hospices, long term home health care programs, home care programs for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, licensed home care service agencies, and restrictedly licensed homecare Service agencies.
“Once submitted, this emergency ordinance will replace the current needs of the hospital and nursing home staff department,” said a DOH spokeswoman.