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Iowa Nursing Home Group Opposes Biden's Vaccine Mandate

An employee of Arbor Springs nursing home in West Des Moines gets a COVID-19 shot on Dec. 28.
Arbor Springs
An employee of Arbor Springs nursing home in West Des Moines gets a COVID-19 shot last December. President Joe Biden announced this week that nursing home staff will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or facilities could lose federal funding.

A group that represents the majority of Iowa’s 431 nursing homes says it opposes President Joe Biden’s new requirement for staff members to be vaccinated.

Biden announced this week nursing home staff will be required to get the shot in order for facilities to receive Medicaid and Medicare funding.

Brent Willett, the president of the Iowa Health Care Association, said he’s concerned the mandate will result in much-needed staff members quitting their positions.

He said nursing homes are working on "razor thin" staffing margins.

"It means that we're going to lose workers who are just not comfortable with being told to take a vaccine that they're still uncomfortable with," Willett said.

Willett said the new mandate unfairly singles out nursing homes, which are funded and regulated by the federal government, unlike assisted living facilities, centers for people with severe intellectual disabilities, hospitals and home health agencies.

"It just it makes no sense to single out a single provider because it means that that workforce will simply walk off the job and go work somewhere else in the health sector," he said.

Willett said instead the focus should be on education programs for those who are hesitant to increase vaccination rates.

"Once we have an opportunity to connect our workforce with their medical professional - talk through their concerns - they are much more likely to become comfortable and voluntarily take the vaccine," he said.

However, AARP Iowa released a statement Wednesday supporting Biden's move to tie nursing home staff vaccinations to federal funding.

"Iowa nursing homes still have a long way to go meet the vaccination standards set by the industry. The new federal requirements should help spur much-needed action," said Brad Anderson, the state director of AARP Iowa, in a statement.

"As the new variants are emerging, nursing home facilities cannot let preventable problems be repeated. The key is to increase vaccinations, and do it now."

According to the Iowa Health Care Association, 62 percent of the 28,827 full-time staff in Iowa’s nursing homes and 95 percent of residents have been fully vaccinated.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter