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COVID-19 Vaccination and Long-Term Care Staffing

September 27, 2021

By Emma Dries and Nathan Boucher

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the caregiving system, changing the ways providers, patients, and caregivers navigate their day-to-day.  The risk of the coronavirus disproportionately affects long-term care residents and staff – a result of close quarters, preexisting health conditions, and inadequate staffing.

Inadequate staffing has been an issue not just in the United States, but also in adult care and long-term care facilities outside the US.  In the United States, the median annual wage for long-term care nursing assistants is $30,830 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2020 data.  This median wage may pressure many employees into additional employment, potentially increasing coronavirus exposure to themselves, their families and those for whom they care.

While access to consistent long-term care staffing was difficult prior to the pandemic, COVID has only exacerbated the issue, with staff members facing increased risk without adequate pay.  Pay, however, is not the only barrier to adequate staff.  Last month, President Biden issued a broad executive order mandated vaccines for almost all long-term care providers. Nursing home aides are the least likely to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and only one-quarter of long-term care homes had at least 75% of staff vaccinated at the time of the mandate.

Nursing home aides provide the most direct care to residents, and the rapid spread of the Delta variant only increases the risk of exposure for both caregivers and their patients.  In the United Kingdom, up to 10% of the workforce population in some long-term care facilities had to be dismissed for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  The COVID-19 vaccine is the most critical resource in slowing the spread of the pandemic.  Mandating the vaccine as well as providing social and monetary support for caregiving staff is critical in maintaining the safety of the most vulnerable in our society.

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