HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Nursing home workers who are not vaccinated could face more frequent testing under a new policy announced by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The Health Department said the state’s more than 700 skilled nursing facilities must have at least 80% of staff vaccinated by Oct. 1. Those that fail to meet the target will have to regularly test unvaccinated employees for COVID-19. Nursing homes that do not adhere to the testing requirement will face regulatory action.READ MORE: CBS3 Mysteries: Detectives Searching For Man They Believe Can Help Solve Santino Thomas' Murder Case
Currently, only one in eight Pennsylvania nursing homes are meeting the 80% target, “which is not enough from a public health perspective to prevent future outbreaks of the virus,” the Health Department said in a news release.
Statewide, nearly 60% of nursing home staff are vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 83% percent of residents have gotten the shot.
“As COVID-19 cases rise, we are committed to helping prevent outbreaks by stopping COVID-19 from entering a nursing home in the first place, and one of the best ways we can do this is through vaccinating staff in skilled nursing facilities,” said Keara Klinepeter, a Health Department official.
COVID-19 swept through the state’s long-term care facilities, especially early in the pandemic, killing more than 13,400 residents — nearly half the statewide toll.READ MORE: Sharon Hill Borough Council Launches Independent Investigation Into Fatal Shooting Of 8-Year-Old Fanta Bility
Nursing home operators appeared to be split over the new policy.
An industry group, the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, pushed back Thursday on what it called “yet another mandate” from the Wolf administration. The group recently came out against the state’s proposal to require long-term care facilities to boost staffing, and it took the state to court last year over more than $150 million in federal coronavirus funding.
“Instead of proposing solutions to increase vaccine acceptance rates in long-term care, the Department of Health, today, threatened providers and issued a punitive mandate on nursing homes,” said Zach Shamberg, the group’s president and CEO. “Working with providers — not punishing them — will produce better outcomes.”
Another trade group, LeadingAge PA — which has also challenged the Wolf administration over staffing and COVID-19 funding — said in a news release distributed by the state that it supports the new vaccination policy. The national LeadingAge organization has recommended that nursing homes make vaccination a condition of employment.
Also Thursday, the Health Department announced a dashboard that shows COVID-19 vaccination rates by facility.MORE NEWS: 19-Year-Old Man Killed In Double Shooting Inside Port Richmond Home, Police Say
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