'Catastrophic': Nursing home leaders say Biden vaccine mandate doesn't consider potential consequences

’Catastrophic’: Nursing home leaders say Biden vaccine mandate doesn’t consider potential consequences

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Biden administration's decision to require nursing homes to have COVID-19 vaccine mandates for staff is facing criticism from the industry.

At Saint John's on the Lake on the city's east side, the senior living community has achieved a 99.5 percent vaccination rate for its 400 residents and a 70 percent vaccination rate for its 230 employees. That rate was achieved without a mandate. Leaders of the community said increasing that rate has been partly credited to careful direct conversations and education with staff.

"I think vaccination is what we need to do," Matthew Lloyd, Saint John's chief operating officer, told CBS 58 in an interview. "My fear is that a mandate will further politicize and further weaponize what's already become a divisive subject."

Now, the mandate pushes the provider and others like it around the state in a position to get its staff vaccination rate to 100 percent or face severe consequences.

"The potential loss of federal funding would be catastrophic," Lloyd said. "This mandate from a federal perspective, really forces many providers to have to mandate."

Nursing homes are also worried about the impact on staffing in an industry that is already facing a labor scarcity.

"Will this cause a wave of staff to choose to work elsewhere?" Lloyd said. "That could equally be catastrophic."

State organizations for nursing homes also expressed concern about the Biden administration's approach.

"The mandate that came out of the Biden administration I think is viewed by a lot of providers as being more punitive than helpful," John Sauer, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin, said.

LeadingAge is a statewide membership association and advocacy group for those that provide long-term care, assisted living and retirement living.

Sauer said he and others in the industry would have preferred if the federal government collaborated with nursing homes to focus more on boosting vaccination rates rather than having them face a penalty for not following the mandate.

"We would've preferred out of the gate a more collaborative approach," Sauer told CBS 58. "And more of a discussion about how do we increase vaccination rates in areas where they are low, how do we provide incentives for people that have been very hesitant to getting the vaccine."

Sauer hopes the feds reconsider a different path.

"While the Biden administration's proposal may be well-intended, I'm afraid they haven't really considered the laws of unintended consequences," Sauer said.

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