In a hiring crisis, Pa. nursing homes push back against Biden’s vaccine mandate | Friday Coffee

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

President Joe Biden spoke loudly and wielded a pretty big stick earlier this week as the administration announced that nursing homes from coast to coast would be required to get their employees vaccinated or risk losing federal Medicaid and Medicare money.

“I’m using the power of the federal government as a payer of health care costs to ensure we reduce those risks for our most vulnerable seniors,” Biden said during a news conference detailing new federal actions, according to Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson.

“If you visit, live or work in a nursing home, you should not be at a high risk of contracting COVID from unvaccinated employees,” Biden added.

The announcement came at a heady time for Pennsylvania’s nursing home industry, which has appealed to state officials for several budget cycles now that the state needs to channel more of its share of Medicaid money to the industry.

Unions representing nursing home workers stretched thin by the pandemic also have pressed for changes in state rules governing staffing ratios and other key matters. The Wolf administration rolled out its first round of fixes during a news conference in July.

The changes, according to organized labor, are long overdue.

“Our union members have had to keep up with working under the pandemic’s weight, but they are spread thin, taking on double shifts just so that residents receive the care they deserve,” Chris Woods, president of District 1199c of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employeeswrote in a Capital-Star op-Ed in April.

President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on Tuesday, 7/13/21 (MSNBC Screen Capture)

In statements released in the wake of the administration’s announcement, trade groups representing the state’s nursing home industry denounced the mandate, saying it would “exacerbate” existing workforce issues across the industry.

“Assistance and collaboration – not threats or punishment – will lead to success and sustainability in long-term care, whether it’s solving a workforce crisis or increasing vaccine acceptance rates amongst staff,” Zach Shamberg, president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said in a statement.

The White House’s order “has the potential to exacerbate an existing workforce crisis and jeopardize access to care for tens of thousands of vulnerable residents throughout Pennsylvania. Providers are already being forced to limit new admissions,” Shamberg added.

Adam Marles, the head of LeadingAge Pa., another trade group, said his organization was “supportive of the federal mandate,” but “[remained] concerned about the negative impact this may have on an already worsening hiring crisis. The vaccines are safe – and they work. Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of the older adults we serve.”

He added that his group had “encouraged our members to mandate vaccination because it’s the best way to keep both residents and staff safe, but we acknowledged the flexibility needed by individual providers to make choices based on their circumstances.”

Yetta Timothy, a 27-year veteran certified nursing assistant, speaks on the Capitol steps at a rally to increase nursing home staffing on March 26, 2021. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

SEIU Healthcare, which represents registered nurses across state government, already has come out in support of a recent Wolf administration edict requiring frontline commonwealth employees to get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

In a statement at the time, the union said the administration’s order “reinforces our shared goal to make sure all healthcare workers have the education, opportunity, and protection to keep them and those they care for safe from the virus.”

“We are ready to put our voices forward in the discussion and plan for universal vaccination in our workplaces,” John Berezansky, a registered nurse at the state Health Department, and a union member, said in a statement. “It is imperative that caregivers on the frontlines guide this process. We must make sure medical personnel always have access to proper PPE, sanitization supplies, a safe workspace and education. We believe that all workers should receive education, access, and paid time off to get vaccinated.”

On Thursday, SEIU Healthcare’s president, Matthew Yarnell, offered a similar sentiment, saying that the union “recommends that all essential workers and working people take the vaccine and that education, easy access and transparency be prioritized in vaccine distribution.

“[We] will continue our work with federal and state leaders, healthcare providers and community organizations to help educate our communities to ensure everyone knows the facts about the vaccine, its benefits and its necessity,” Yarnell continued.

As the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported last week, Wolf’s vaccine order has split unions, some of whom have chosen to bargain over the requirement, while others, such as the Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association, have chosen to sue.

That local schism is reflective of a broader divide in labor over the question of vaccine mandates.

At the nationwide level, the AFL-CIO said it fully supports vaccine mandatesBloomberg Law reported late last month. The American Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, said it would oppose any plan that didn’t leave the choice to workers and unions, according to Bloomberg.

“There’s a larger principle that many unions are reacting to,” Paul Clark, a labor and employment professor at Penn State, told Bloomberg. “The whole purpose of unions is to give workers some control and some voice about what happens in the workplace.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Saying his cause had “been weakened and diminished,” a Republican state lawmaker behind an Arizona-style investigation of Pennsylvania’s election results has pressed pause on the probe, Marley Parish reports.

About 1,200 Pennsylvania barber shops and salons across the commonwealth that applied for, but did not receive, state pandemic assistance last year are now eligible for $20 million in funding earmarked just for their industryStephen Caruso reports.

A new tool launched by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services can help providers and community organizations identify and address health inequities, state health experts say, Cassie Miller reports.

With reports of a bomb threat on Capitol Hill on Thursday, members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation were checking in with constituents to let them know they were safe, Cassie Miller also reports.

Tax forms for Philly Pride Presents reveal an organization with exhausted funds and no assets from 2016 to 2019, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report. The organization had come under scrutiny for declining to repay some vendors for cancelled events in 2020 and 2021.

Officials in Philadelphia say they won’t roll out new programs to keep public school students safe during an epidemic of gun violence, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz says the DOJ was wrong not to defend an Alabama congressman in a civil suit over his participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection, but prosecuting former President Donald Trump would be an even worse idea. From our sibling site, the Missouri Independent, farmer Darvin Bentlage wonders whether a Biden White House executive order will spark real change in food production.

En la Estrella-Capital: Al comenzar la escuela, los funcionarios estatales ofrecen iniciativas opcionales de vacunación y pruebas a los distritos. Y el proyecto de ley del legislador de Filadelfia designaría septiembre como ‘Mes de la Herencia Hispana,’ en Pa

(Image via The Philadelphia Gay News)

Elsewhere.
Philly Clout introduces you to the judges who don’t even have to campaign thanks to something called ‘Magic Seats.’

Pennsylvania logged its biggest, one-day total for COVID-19 cases in months on Thursday with 3,451 new infections, the Post-Gazette reports.

More public schools in central Pennsylvania are requiring masksPennLive reports. Check to see if your district is on the list (paywall).

Fentanyl deaths are on the rise in Pennsylvania and in the Lehigh Valley, the Morning Call reports.

The search for a new county manager is in full swing in Luzerne County, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Officials in Washington County have put off a vote to reconfigure the county’s human services department, the Observer-Reporter reports.

Officials in the Mars Area schools in Allegheny County have banned the teaching of critical race theory and approved a ‘patriotism amendment,’ WESA-FM reports.

WHYY-FM digs into Census data, and what it means for the growing political power of Philadelphia’s Asian and Latino communities.

A conservative group is spending $240K on ads pressuring U.S. Reps. Susan Wild, D-7th District, and Matt Cartwright, D-8th Districtto oppose the $3.5 trillion budget resolution, PoliticsPA reports.

A group of nine U.S. House Democrats are holding fast to their demand that a vote on infrastructure has to come before a budget vote, Roll Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.

WolfWatch
Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to longtime Friend O’the Blog, Kate Philips, of Erie, who celebrates today, and to former PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch, who celebrates on Saturday. Congratulations and enjoy your day, folks.

Heavy Rotation
The Notting Hill Carnival, an annual closing rite of summer in the United Kingdom, is a COVID casualty again this year. But to channel some of the extraordinary spirit of that event, here’s an entire playlist of ska, soca, and reggae bangers to power you through your Friday.

Friday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link
Another weekend of Premier League action is upon us. As is its custom, the Guardian has 10 things to look for over the next 48 hours of play.

And now you’re up to date.



Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by John L. Micek

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