Heritage personnel not vaccinated before September 6 must wear N95 masks
A Bloomington-based company that operates nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in central Illinois has adopted a policy that would eventually require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or to lose their jobs.
Heritage sites affected by the policy – one of the first of its kind for a group of nursing homes in Illinois – include Heritage Health Springfield, 900 N. Rutledge St., Springfield; Regency Care, 2120 W. Washington St., Springfield; and facilities in Beardstown, Litchfield, Carlinville, Gillespie, Jacksonville, Litchfield, Pana, Staunton, Mason City and Lincoln.
“We believe it is the right thing to do to protect residents,” Benjamin Hart, managing director of Heritage Operations Group, told the State Journal-Register on Monday.
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First adopted by Heritage in late May and amended two weeks ago, the policy comes as new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase statewide.
Experts say the increases are mostly occurring among the unvaccinated, but are also affecting those vaccinated – especially the elderly – as they are increasingly exposed to the highly transmissible delta strain of COVID-19 from the unvaccinated.
The American Medical Association and more than 50 other healthcare organizations last week released a joint statement in support of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for all healthcare and long-term care workers.
“With over 300 million doses administered in the United States and nearly 4 billion doses administered worldwide, we know that vaccines are safe and highly effective in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19,” said outgoing WADA President Dr Susan Bailey. in a separate statement.
A handful of hospitals and long-term care providers in Illinois have taken action based on the recommendation of the vaccination mandate.
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Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health, an agency he controls, have strongly recommended COVID-19 vaccines but have not called on employers to mandate vaccinations or proposed legislation to enforce them. injections.
The Democratic governor said at a Chicago-area bill signing event on Monday that 97% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 98.5% of people who have died from the disease in the United States are not vaccinated.
â€œThis should tell you something,â€ Pritzker said. “To get vaccinated.”
At Heritage, 90% of residents are fully vaccinated, but only about half of staff are vaccinated, Heritage spokesperson Melissa Beaver said. The reluctance of heritage workers to be vaccinated voluntarily is reflected in similar vaccination levels among long-term care workers nationwide, she said.
Some unvaccinated workers have said they don’t trust the government, some believe the vaccine is too new, and some believe vaccinations will put a watchdog chip in their arms, Beaver said.
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â€œSocial media has perpetuated the myths about the vaccine,â€ she said.
Hart said the fact that COVID-19 vaccinations have become “politicized” has helped spread misinformation.
Heritage has told its workers they must get a full vaccine by September 6 or be required to wear N95 masks at all times at work, rather than the surgical masks they have been wearing since the start of the pandemic.
After the United States Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to one of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use based on the FDA’s emergency use standard, workers at Heritage will have 30 days to get a full vaccine or face termination, Heritage officials said.
It is speculated that full FDA approval for one of the three COVID-19 vaccines used could come in the fall.
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Heritage first released its policy at the end of May. The requirement at that time was to get fully immunized by September 6 or face termination, Beaver said.
Heritage changed the policy after company officials listened to workers’ concerns and saw some of them quit, she said.
Some heritage facilities have seen “groundbreaking” cases of COVID-19 among residents, Hart said. Revolutionary cases relate to cases among fully vaccinated people.
These cases are suspected to be caused by unvaccinated workers who contracted COVID-19 in their communities and unknowingly introduced the virus into the workplace, Hart said.
The groundbreaking cases resulted in the hospitalization of an Illinois resident but no death, testifying to the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, he said.
At the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, nursing home residents had some of the highest death rates from COVID-19 and accounted for up to half of all COVID-19 deaths in Illinois .
Hart said he would like to see the state or federal government mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all healthcare workers.
A government mandate, he said, would increase patient protection and reduce concerns for nursing homes and other healthcare employers who are promulgating vaccine mandates and then potentially see workers resign and be hired by another employer without a warrant, he said.
Heritage could end up losing staff due to its policy, but Hart suspects that more healthcare employers will adopt similar demands.
Heritage operates two Springfield nursing homes as a joint venture with Memorial Health System, and Memorial has agreed to adopt the Heritage policy at Heritage Springfield and Regency Care, Beaver said.
Sites where the policy will come into effect include Evergreen Place Supportive Living in Beardstown and Litchfield; and Heritage health facilities in Beardstown, Carlinville, Chillicothe, Dwight, El Paso, Gillespie, Jacksonville, Litchfield, Pana and Staunton.
At the Mason City Area Nursing Home, which Heritage operates but does not own, the home’s board of directors voted to accept Heritage’s policy, Beaver said.
Likewise, St. Clara’s Rehab and Senior Care in Lincoln has adopted the policy, she said.
Decisions on the policy have been delayed at Sunny Acres Nursing Home in Petersburg and Villas Senior Care Community in Sherman, she said.
Several hospitals and hospital systems in Illinois have decided to require that all workers be vaccinated. Springfield Memorial Health System and Hospital Sisters Health System are considering such a policy but have not made a decision.
Those mandating COVID-19 vaccination among Illinois employees include OSF HealthCare, SSM Health, BJC HealthCare, based in Peoria, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Loyola Medicine, University of Chicago Medicine, and Chicago’s University of Illinois Hospital.
The American Hospital Association has called for all healthcare workers to be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Illinois Health and Hospital Association did not take this action.
â€œWe strongly encourage everyone, including healthcare workers, to get vaccinated,â€ said IHA spokesperson Danny Chun.