As variants spread, vaccination pressure builds for nursing-home staffs

Mike Moen
Devils Lake Daily Journal

BISMARCK, N.D. - Amid a COVID-19 resurgence, advocates are calling on nursing homes to require that all staff members get vaccinated. Both nationally and in North Dakota, a nonprofit tracking the latest data says there haven't been enough workers getting on board.

The latest COVID-19 dashboard from AARP shows that in North Dakota, only 24% of senior-care facilities have met the industry target of having at least 75% of their staffs vaccinated.

State Director of AARP North Dakota, Josh Askvig, said they don't want to go back to last fall, when the state saw some of the highest novel coronavirus death rates among patients.

"What's concerning right now is as new variants are emerging, facilities cannot let preventable problems be repeated," said Askvig. "We've got to increase vaccinations, and we've got to do it now."

Across the country, just 60% of nursing-home workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Groups such as the American Medical Association have called for vaccination mandates for health-care employees, including long-term care workers.

Those pleas follow a variety of arguments from those who have yet to receive a shot, including personal freedoms, or reluctance based on historical health-care barriers.

The latest AARP dashboard also shows nearly 12% of North Dakota nursing homes lack Personal Protective Equipment to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Askvig said the state should help to ensure they have enough supplies.

As for the vaccinations, he said facilities need to step up in this area.

"They've got the resources through the different relief funding to get it done." said Askvig. "And so, we're encouraging everyone eligible for the vaccine to get vaccinated."

Earlier this year, $200 million was included in the American Rescue Plan to help with vaccination efforts in nursing homes.

AARP's dashboard relies on federal data in four week periods going back to June of last year.