As the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across the country, some nursing home employees are still reporting to work unvaccinated.
NBC4 Investigates reviewed records kept by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on vaccinations in long-term care facilities throughout Ohio. In Franklin County, 17 of 57 nursing homes reported a staff vaccination percentage below 50% as of July 11.
People who live and work in nursing homes were among the first eligible for coronavirus vaccines in late 2020 due to the higher risk of severe infection the virus poses to the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.
7,643 deaths from COVID-19 in Ohio have been residents of long-term care facilities, according to the Ohio Department of Health. That accounts for more than 37% of the state’s coronavirus deaths.
“Vaccination is the protection for not only the individual who’s getting vaccinated but the community in which they work,” said Dr. John Weigand, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Aging’s Regional Rapid Response Assistance Program.
Weigand’s program, R3AP, has been responsible for preventing and controlling COVID-19 outbreaks in congregate settings since the early days of the pandemic. He said infection control specialists are currently visiting homes to educate unvaccinated employees on the benefits of the vaccines, which have been deemed safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration and the wider medical community.
“It’s really been a challenge to try to influence some of the individuals who have been wary,” Weigand said. “And I’m OK with people being wary and asking the questions. But what’s mostly disconcerting is the fact that there’s so much disinformation out there.”
CMS’s data for 952 Ohio homes were not verified by NBC4, so errors may exist. McNaughten Pointe in Columbus, for example, shows about 4% of residents and 13% of staff at least partially vaccinated during the week of July 11. The week before, however, it reported 41% and 78%, respectively, to CMS.
With that noted, 4 in 10 of Ohio’s nursing homes have a staff vaccination percentage lower than the overall state vaccination percentage of 49.15%, according to CMS data. Ninety-six homes are lower than 30% and 42 are lower than 20%. Twenty-three have that column blank.
Two Franklin County nursing homes other than McNaughten Pointe reported vaccinations below 30% among employees: Mayfair Village Nursing Care Center in Columbus with 25.9% and Darby Glenn in Hilliard with 26.6% of its staff having received at least one shot.
“Our policy is that vaccines are not mandated but strongly encouraged,” said Leigh Atherton, a spokesperson for Life Care Centers of America, which owns Mayfair Village, in an email.
“Upon hire or admission, each new associate and resident is offered an opportunity to receive the vaccine,” Atherton continued. “Earlier this year, vaccine clinics we hosted on-site at every facility. In addition, there have been multiple videos and training pieces produced about the value of vaccines.”
Phone messages left for Darby Glenn’s administrator and at Foundations Health Solutions, which owns the home, were not returned. (See update at bottom)
When NBC4 asked Weigand if the state’s R3AP vaccine education efforts are gaining ground, he replied, “One vaccination is headway.”
“The Delta variant has kind of renewed the concern,” Weigand said. “As a result, we have had a renewed interest and by facilities to try to get people vaccinated.”
The GRAND in Dublin is the only long-term care facility in Franklin County that reported 100% of its staff are vaccinated. Another three homes reported employee vaccinations above 90%.
(UPDATE, July 30, 12:09 p.m.): After this story aired, Clara Wukelich, the risk manager for Foundations Health Solutions, which owns Darby Glenn and McNaughten Pointe, called NBC4 Investigates and said the numbers reported most recently to CMS were inaccurate.
Wukelich said the company had mistakenly only reported the percentage of staff who had received the Pfizer vaccine and not the vaccines manufactured by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. She said Foundations Health Solutions resubmitted the correct information to CMS, but she would not share that data with NBC4 Investigates.
“We absolutely encourage the vaccine for our staff,” Wukelich said. “That’s what’s going to end this (pandemic) for us.”