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Advocates, Union Representatives, Support Vaccine Mandate For Nursing Home Workers

Ashley Mosley, a Certified Nursing Assistant, advocates for hazard pay for essential workers because of their increased risk of contracting the coronavirus.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Ashley Mosley, a certified nursing assistant, said nursing homes need to make sure employees are informed about the vaccine, make it available at work or make sure employees have time to get the shots elsewhere.

Advocates for nursing home residents and unions that represent nursing home employees back the Biden administration’s effort to make sure workers get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The administration’s order requires nursing homes that accept Medicare and Medicaid to ensure that their workers are fully vaccinated. President Joe Biden said facilities that don’t mandate vaccines could lose federal funding.

The federal mandate could significantly increase Missouri’s vaccination numbers for long-term care staff who often take care of some of the most vulnerable residents, said Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a nonprofit that advocates for long-term care residents.

“Almost every single skilled nursing facility within the St. Louis region accepts Medicare and Medicaid,” Moore said. “So it's really important for folks to know that what we're talking about is that almost every nursing home in our region is going to be affected by this.”

Only 47% of nursing home employees in Missouri are fully vaccinated. Moore said the low percentage of fully vaccinated staff is a potential health risk, especially for residents who aren’t able to get vaccinated due to other health conditions.

“Each time a staff member tested positive, that usually means that a facility has to either shut down for a couple days, a couple of weeks to make sure that they can figure, did anybody else catch [the coronavirus], ” Moore said. “We just went through almost a year and a half of residents being shut away from their families, they really don't deserve to have another couple of weeks here and there every so often away from their families again.”

The order comes as the Food and Drug Administration has given full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Health officials hope that will boost lagging vaccination rates in the state, especially as the highly contagious delta variant has spread across Missouri.

Representatives of SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents health care workers, said they support vaccine mandates for nursing home employees. But they said nursing homes should work with nursing home staff to educate workers on the benefits of the vaccine.

Ashley Mosley, a union steward for SEIU Healthcare, said that she’s glad to see the mandate in place and that it will keep staff and residents safe. It's important that employers and union members work together to ensure that staff members who need to get the vaccine can do so, Mosley said.

Employers should make it available at work or make sure employees have time to get the shots elsewhere, she said.

“You might take the vaccine, and you’re having symptoms from taking it, maybe if they’re able to get a little bit of extra time off for that day,” Mosley said. “Just something to make people feel encouraged or feel like they won’t miss any hours of work if they go and get the vaccine.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.