The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) and the National Minority Health Association (NMHA) are working together to increase vaccination rates among home health and hospice workers. The combined $ 11.1 million effort, part of the NMHA’s Flex for Checks program, aims to break down barriers preventing vaccinations and contain the rising tide of COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 627,000 lives since the deadly virus first struck the United States almost a year and a half ago, with more than 13,740 of those deaths reported since August 1, according to a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The new variant B.1.617.2 (Delta) has led to an increase in infections, especially in unvaccinated people. Unvaccinated people are more likely to become infected and spread the virus as well as more severe symptoms.
As the pandemic worsens, hospice providers are concerned about protecting their patients, families and their employees.
“This is an even more pressing issue as the Delta variant is rapidly spreading among the unvaccinated and the colder winter months approaching,” said Bill Dombi, President and CEO of NAHC. “We have to be honest and acknowledge our vaccination deficit as an industry – but as an industry we have to come together to resolve it. We look forward to working with NMHA in this collaboration. “
The vaccination push is a growing priority nationwide. According to Home Health Care News, a sister publication, in July, NAHC was part of an effort composed of nearly 60 medical groups and seniors’ associations who joined forces to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all health and long-term care workers, according to the Hospice News.
The CDC reported that just over 73% of adults nationwide received at least one dose of vaccine. According to NAHC data, an estimated 40 to 90% of home care workers, including those in the hospice, are vaccinated. The range depends largely on the company and the professional discipline of the employee.
According to a recent report by the National Academy for State Health Policy, 11 states have implemented vaccination requirements for health care workers, including states where hospice use is high among Medicare deaths, such as Utah, Arizona, and Florida.
Utah held the highest hospice use rate in the nation at 60.5% in 2018, while Arizona and Florida are in the top 5 states at 58.8% and 57.9%, respectively, according to the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization. This was well above the national 50% average reported by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission that same year.
Many hospice providers are still suffering from the financial and operational impact of the pandemic, with patient access and staff shortages high on their list of concerns.
Hospices have seen a drop in patient counts since the outbreak began as skilled nurses, long-term care facilities and hospitals closed their doors to visitors to help prevent infection. Patients and families have also been reluctant and reluctant to seek hospice care at home as they were concerned that unvaccinated staff could spread infection.
The hospice industry has been under staff shortages for years, but providers have cited the pandemic as a growing problem that continues to fuel the issue. According to a survey by Hospice News earlier this year, more than 35% of hospice directors identified staff shortages as a top concern for their organizations, along with regaining access to patients in facilities. Staff turnover has increased in a number of disciplines during the pandemic, including nurses, licensed independent doctors, case managers and aides.
The vaccination effort was funded by an NMHA grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that is part of the $ 125 million provided by the US Department of Health’s HHS American Rescue Plan of 2021 to raise awareness of vaccines through a community-based community Workforce and elimination of vaccination barriers in vulnerable and medically underserved communities.
The funding received from HRSA supported Flex for Checks, a community-based program that aims to increase vaccination confidence and rates among populations with diverse healthcare settings. The program is designed to encourage home care workers to provide education and information about vaccines to these populations. Flex for Checks provides incentives for workers who are self-vaccinated and for those who train others to vaccinate.
AccentCare, headquartered in Dallas, has also joined the effort. The post-acute care provider recently announced plans to administer 5,000 vaccinations as part of the Flex for Checks program to its more than 30,000 employees in 250 locations.
“We know the industry has a problem with vaccinations,” says AccentCare CEO Stephan Rodgers. “Vaccination is the first line of defense against COVID-19 and we want to be part of the solution. For this reason we aggressively encourage our team members to get vaccinated. “
AccentCare is a portfolio company of the private equity firm Advent International, which acquired the provider from Oak Hill Capital Partners in 2019. Serving more than 200,000 patients and their families in 31 states nationwide, the company provides hospice, palliative care, and personal, non-management medical care. At the end of 2020, the company merged with Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care.
“We are very excited to partner with NAHC and AccentCare as we seek to vaccinate as many caregivers and people in underserved areas as possible,” said NMHA Executive Director Burgess Harrison. “Nothing like it has been done this way, where home care agencies, workers, consumers, pharmacies and software companies come together and move their arms in the fight of our lives against COVID-19.”