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DHS Considering Incentives To Increase Low Staff COVID-19 Vaccination Rates At Facilities

The Glenwood Resource Center is a state-run facility for Iowans with severe disabilities.
Katie Peikes
IPR File
The Glenwood Resource Center is a state-run facility for Iowans with severe disabilities. According to state data, more than 43 percent of employees have declined the COVID-19 vaccine as of April 2.

The Iowa Department of Human Services says it is considering ways to incentivize more employees at six state facilities to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

DHS has more than 1,800 staff members at its six facilities, and 36 percent have declined to take the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state's most recent numbers.

At a DHS Council meeting on Thursday, department spokesperson Matt Highland said the state is even considering policy changes to incentivize employees to get vaccinated.

He said one such change could be requiring employees who are exposed to or test positive for COVID-19 to use their personal paid time off to quarantine once the vaccine is more widely available.

"We're getting to a point where everyone will have had the opportunity. And so, you know, wanting to use those tools to prevent the spread, we're going to start adjusting policies like that to really help to incentivize our team members to get their vaccinations. It's the right thing to do," Highland said.

Highland said the department has been floating time off for employees who have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19 "to ensure that we don't have people showing up to work sick."

Additionally, he said DHS is hosting staff town halls to provide information about the vaccine. He said the next one will take place at the Woodward Resource Center and will include State Medical Director Caitlin Pedati.

DHS releases weekly reports updating staff and patients vaccinations at its six facilities: the Cherokee Mental Health Institute, the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders, the Independence Mental Health Institute, the Glenwood Resource Center, the Woodward Resource Center and the Iowa State Training School for Boys.

According to the most recent report from April 2, 669 staff members have declined the vaccine, or about 36 percent of all facility staff.

However, rates vary between the facilities and types of staff members.

That percentage was higher for staff members at the Glenwood Resource Center, the state's largest facility, which employees 641 people. The report shows 280 employees — or more than 43 percent — have declined the vaccine.

At the Woodward Resource Center, the state's second-largest facility, which employees 512 people, 151 of those staff members — just under 30 percent — have declined.

Across all state facilities, direct care staff have been the most likely to not want the shot, with 1,136 people — or 42 percent — declining.

That's followed by clinical staff where 46 people — 24 percent — have declined and then administrative staff where 22 people — 17 percent — have declined.

In contrast, just 10 percent of the nearly 600 residents at the six facilities have declined the vaccine. Residents include minors under 18 and dependent adults.

The percent of DHS facility employees who have declined the vaccine remains above the percent of the general population who say they do not want the vaccine, according to recent polls.

A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll released last month found 27 percent of Iowans say they do not plan to get the shot.

A national poll conducted by NPR last month found similar results with 30 percent of all adults saying they do not want the vaccine.

At least one DHS facility, the State Training School for Boys in Eldora, where 43 percent of staff have declined the vaccine, has experienced a COVID-19 outbreak affecting at least a dozen juvenile residents and five staff members last July.

According to DHS data, two residents at all facilities have died from COVID-19.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter