KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In some Kansas City nursing homes, fewer than one in five staff members are vaccinated against COVID-19, the virus that has been the major cause of death among those living in nursing homes.
Because of those low staff vaccination numbers, the federal government is expected to enforce an emergency regulation in October requiring anyone working in a nursing home to be vaccinated. Nursing homes that don’t comply could risk losing federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Data taken from the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) shows nearly 95.6% of Kansas City area nursing homes have higher resident vaccination rates than their respective staff. In fact, only six of the Kansas City area’s 136 nursing homes, or 4.4%, have higher staff vaccination rates than their residents.
Infinity Park Post-Acute and Rehabilitation Center in Johnson County, Kansas is the only Kansas City area nursing home with 100% of its staff fully vaccinated, according to the database, but only 67.3% of its residents have received two doses of the vaccine, about a 39.1% difference.
Dr. Harold Braswell, associate professor of health care ethics at Saint Louis University, said health care workers that reject the vaccine are endangering the safety and well being of their patients.
“The rates of vaccination among staff in long-term care facilities are disturbingly low, considering the gravity of their vaccination status,” he said. “First, they are exposed to COVID in the facility themselves,and have to worry about their own family and their own health, but they also can bring COVID into the facilities to residents.”
Braswell said President Joe Biden’s new plan to confront the COVID-19 surge is long overdue.
“There has been a very substantial investment about education, coordinated on the federal, state, and local levels,” he said. “So, there has been huge efforts and it hasn’t worked. The only solution is mandatory vaccination of workers for long-term care facilities.”
Majorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, an advocacy group for seniors living in long-term care facilities, said nursing homes fear a vaccination mandate will result in a loss of staff.
But thousands of health care workers have already left the nursing home industry for fear of contracting the virus, she said.
“My hope is that once those vaccine mandates are in place, that some of those people who dropped out because they didn’t feel safe in that workplace will come back,” Moore said.
Edgewood Manor Health Care Center in Raytown, Missouri has the lowest staff vaccination rate, at only 15.3%, while only 30.2% of its residents are fully vaccinated, data shows.
Data shows Ignite Medical Resort Kansas City, LLC in Kansas City, Missouri has the lowest resident vaccination rate in the metro, at 27.3%, while only 25.6% of its staff are fully vaccinated.
Out of 136 Kansas City nursing homes, only eight or 5.9%, have 100% of its residents fully vaccinated.
As far as staff vaccination, in Kansas about 61% of nursing home staff are vaccinated. In Missouri, it’s about 50 percent.
Bob Miller, a resident at Delmar Gardens in Lenexa, Kansas, said he would never live in a nursing home where the majority of staff aren’t vaccinated.
“I don’t play Russian roulette,” he said. “If I was in a facility and I knew that the employees and administration weren’t vaccinated, no, I wouldn’t stay there.”
Moore said she supports the federal vaccine mandate because health care workers must consider not only the physical toll COVID-19 can have on patients, but also the emotional and psychological pressure another virus lockdown could impose.
“COVID itself is terrible for residents, but the social isolation that comes from having to shut down a facility to keep it from spreading is even worse,” she said.
According to the United States Department of Health & Human Services’ Vaccination Immunization Requirements memorandum, facilities must submit COVID-19 data to the NHSN at least weekly in order to be compliant with new reporting requirements.
Facilities identified as not meeting all reporting requirements will be fined, starting at $1,000 for the first occurrence of failure to report.
Data shows only about 2.2% of Kansas City nursing homes are not in compliance with mandatory data reporting.
For instance, Foxwood Springs Living Center in Raymore, Missouri does not have data submitted in the NHSN’s system. But Blair Burney, public relations representative for Foxwood Springs, said the facility’s ownership changed and it has been experiencing technical problems when attempting to submit its data.
“Due to a recent change in ownership at Foxwood Springs, we have experienced technical issues accessing the NHSN compliance portal, where the data is uploaded,” Burney said in an email. “We are actively and diligently working with representatives at NHSN to resolve these issues and expect to gain access shortly.”
Foxwood Springs declined to provide its staff and resident vaccination rates citing, “for resident confidentiality, we cannot respond to any specific information requests as we prioritize with NHSN and uploading the data as soon as possible.”
Foxwood Springs is not the only facility experiencing trouble with NHSN’s website.
The Grand Royale in Gladstone, Missouri said it is experiencing a login error and also cannot access the compliance portal. Its information cannot be found in the database.
However, Chelsea Wilson, communication and content strategist at Grand Royale, said 100% of its staff and residents are fully vaccinated, though technical issues in the NHSN’s database have prevented the facility from being recognized for it.
“Every resident and team member in our community is fully vaccinated,” she said in an email. “All associates also undergo bi-weekly COVID-19 testing.”
Little Sisters of the Poor’s Jeanne Jugan Center in Kansas City, Missouri, whose resident vaccination rate has already reached 100, reported a staff vaccination rate of 67.2 on Aug. 29.
But by Sept. 5, the CMS database showed its vaccination rate dropped to 0.
Phyllis Schapker, assistant administrator at Jeanne Jugan Center, said she was grateful FOX4 contacted the facility and brought this to her attention.
“CMS changed its database tools beginning on September 1st,” she said in a phone call. “We’ve entered our data every week but realized there was a filter to our data we hadn’t applied yet. We just need to go in and add that filter, and then the data should pop up on the site.”
She said the facility’s staff vaccination rate remains at about 67.2 but is expected to rise in coming weeks.
“It’s about to get higher cause a lot of people are getting their second vaccines this week,” Schapker said. “We are targeting close to 75% by the end of the month.”
In fact, Schapker said only 20 staff members remain unvaccinated at their facility, but many of them have already come forward and expressed intent to receive it.
Mark E. Brager, public affairs specialist at CMS, said the CDC flags data that is likely an entry error. He said health care facilities that are negligent with data submissions are at a greater risk of experiencing an outbreak.
“Several Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports regarding nursing home outbreaks have linked the spread of COVID-19 infection to unvaccinated health care professionals, and stressed that maintaining a high vaccination rate is important for reducing transmission,” Brager said. “While data available from other health care settings are less comprehensive, they strongly suggest that similar risks are likely present.”
He said ensuring the safety and protection of anyone seeking care is of the utmost priority, something health care workers need to also be adamant about.
“Vaccinations are a toll we have to protect the health and safety of residents and staff,” Brager said. “The vaccination reduces exposure among all residents to unvaccinated staff, adds an extra layer of protection and safety while diminishing the impact of COVID-19, and helps to ensure the health, safety, quality of life, and safe visitation for residents.”
You can find data and relevant information regarding vaccination status of residents and staff in any nursing home on Medicare’s website.