AARP: COVID vaccine should be required for nursing home residents, visitors
As soon as next month, nursing homes in New Jersey could lose federal funding if their employee rosters aren't fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
AARP New Jersey suggests that the bold move, announced Wednesday by President Joe Biden, is not enough to significantly reduce the spread of the deadly illness among one of the most vulnerable demographics.
"We are also calling for nursing homes to require that all residents and visitors be vaccinated as well," Evelyn Liebman, director of advocacy for AARP-NJ, told New Jersey 101.5. "We just need to improve in this area."
Given the threat of the Delta variant, Liebman said, advocates hope to eliminate the chance for another round of widespread infections within nursing homes, like what was seen in the first few months of the pandemic.
Long-term care facilities — the definition of which includes nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and other high-risk congregate settings in New Jersey — have seen more than 8,000 lab-confirmed deaths of residents and staff since the pandemic took hold of the state in early 2020, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
More than 100 long-term care facilities in New Jersey have active outbreaks, according to NJDOH. Within those outbreaks, 274 residents are infected and 258 staff are infected.
According to an AARP COVID-19 dashboard that specifically tracks activity in nursing homes, close to 69% of staff was fully vaccinated as of July 18. The vaccination rate among nursing home residents was close to 84%.
"We know we have many facilities that have more than one person to a room," Liebman noted.
When reached for comment, the Health Care Association of New Jersey, which represents long-term care providers, did not address whether or not there should be a vaccination mandate for residents. But CEO Andy Aronson said providers would welcome a rule change that gives them the ability to screen visitors according to COVID vaccination or test results — currently, providers can't require that visitors prove vaccination or show a negative test.
Regarding President Biden's vaccine mandate for nursing home staff, Aronson said he wants to see the U.S. or New Jersey extend that mandate to the entire healthcare community, especially hospital staff.
"The vulnerable residents of long-term care centers receive care in other healthcare settings, including hospitals and physician’s offices, making it essential that vaccination of all healthcare workers be considered as a priority," Aronson said.
Select hospitals in New Jersey have their own vaccine mandates in staff for frontline and/or all workers. An executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy says that workers in healthcare facilities need to be vaccinated by Sept. 7 or be subject to regular testing.