President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that nursing homes receiving Medicaid and Medicare payments must require all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to continue receiving those funds.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are crafting the regulations, which could go into effect as soon as next month.
That means staff at Heritage Place in Soldotna, operated by Central Peninsula Hospital, will be subject to the requirement, as the vast majority of the nursing home’s income is in the form of Medicaid payments.
“Ninety-four percent. It’s a big deal,” said Bruce Richards, director of external affairs for the hospital.
Most of that 94 percent is Medicaid payments, will a small amount of Medicare. The remaining 6 percent is from private insurance and a small amount of self-pay.
Given that, Richards said they have to comply.
“I don’t think there’s another option,” he said. “We would have to close, obviously, if we don’t get paid by CMS for providing these services.”
He said the majority of Heritage Place workers are already vaccinated.
“The remainder is who this is going to impact, and I suspect that, you know, it’s not going to go over very well with some of them,” Richards said. “Others will probably go ahead and get their vaccination. But I suspect we’ll lose staff over this. In fact, I’m sure of it.”
The hospital system is already struggling with a spike in COVID cases and is just busy these days, in general. Richards doesn’t have an estimate yet of how many Heritage Place workers they might lose over the mandate but said it’s a bad time to lose any staff.
“Even just losing one or two is difficult at this time right now,” he said. “And we’ll have to move some people around and people are going to be taking extra shifts if they want them. It’s going to be difficult to pick our way through, but we’ll get through it eventually.”
Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, said an exodus of staff could happen at nursing homes across the country. The requirement could affect as many as 15,000 nursing home facilities across the country. To avoid staffing problems, Parkinson advocates for the mandate to be extended to all health care workers.
To mask or not to mask, much less to vax or not to vax, have already been divisive topics on the central Kenai Peninsula. Richards said the requirement will help protect at-risk residents of nursing homes. But he’s also expecting a backlash of public opinion.
Richards said there haven’t been any positive COVID cases among Heritage Place residents in the last month but there have been at least four positive cases among staff.