The Ohio AARP is urging nursing homes to require vaccinations, after an analysis by the organization indicated a stagnating number of vaccinations, and concern about an increase in cases among residents and staff.
“Any number of cases is concerning, given the rise of new variants, the gaps in vaccinations among those in nursing homes, and the disproportionate numbers of deaths due to COVID-19 and high risk in nursing homes throughout the pandemic,” the organization said in a statement.
More than 7,593 residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in Ohio have died from COVID-19, the organization said, representing around 37% of deaths. Less than 1% of the population lives in these facilities nationally.
COVID-19 cases decreased slightly among Ohio nursing home residents and staff over the analysis of four weeks ending on July 18. However, the national average has seen a slight uptick in cases over the same period.
COVID-19 cases and deaths among nursing home residents have improved since the height of the pandemic. However, the trend of week-to-week cases is rapidly rising, according to AARP. Cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff doubled between the weeks of June 27 and July 18. Additionally, Ohio vaccination rates have stayed around 79% among residents and 52% among staff. Only 7.9% of nursing homes had at least 75% of staff vaccinated, which the organization says is the industry standard.
“During the previous round of COVID, we saw facilities decimated by the virus. We saw facilities losing multiple residents every day,” said Ohio Ombudsman program representative Chip Wilkins. “We want whatever is going to give residents the safest option. Anything that can reduce that, and the heartache it causes the family, we are in favor of.”
“The high COVID death rates of residents and staff in nursing homes has been a national disgrace,” said Holly Holtzen, AARP State Director. “As the new variants are emerging, Ohio facilities cannot let preventable problems be repeated. The key is to increase vaccinations, and do it now.”
Despite the urging from AARP and other organizations, mandating vaccines may prove difficult to implement. Conversation around mandatory vaccination has sparked blowback among some member organizations, according to Executive Director of the Ohio Health Care Association Pete Van Runkle.
“The bottom line is that while we are very supportive of vaccination and want everyone to be vaccinated, both staff and members of the general public, there’s another side of the story when it comes to mandating,” Van Runkle said.
“It really hits healthcare hard,” he continued. “We’re not in a position to close down early. Not in a position to say ‘it’s okay if you quit because you don’t want to get vaccinated,’ because we have a responsibility to take care of the people we have.”
A third of nursing homes in Ohio are still facing a staffing shortage of nurses or aides.
“If Ohio emerges from this pandemic without meaningful changes in our nursing homes and fragmented long-term care system, we have missed an opportunity,” Holtzen said. “The low levels of staff vaccinations in particular creates an unacceptable level of risk, since the disease spreads so easily in these environments.”
“There’s no question. The data overall is that it’s not perfect, but it sure is better than not being vaccinated, in terms of severe outcomes like hospitalizations and deaths,” Van Runkle said.
The full Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard is available at http://www.aarp.org/nursinghomedashboard.