Some organizations support COVID vaccine requirement for nursing home staff as Delta variant surges

With the Delta variant fueling a resurgence of COVID,-19 there's concern that nursing homes, which experienced some of the worst outbreaks at the start of the pandemic, could have cases surge again.

While many residents have been vaccinated, the rate among staff is still below 60% nationally according to AARP.

That's why the North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association is now supporting policies that would require nursing home employees to be vaccinated.

The low rates of vaccinations among nursing home workers has one North Carolina man whose 94-year-old mother is in a Wake County facility scratching his head.

"When it comes to health care providers, those are the people with whom we've entrusted the safety of our loved ones. And so I would certainly wonder why they wouldn't want to be vaccinated," Phil Wells told ABC11.

Wells' mom Rosalee lives in a long-term care facility in Wake Forest which, amazingly, has not had a single case of COVID-19.

And while he's grateful, that doesn't mean he isn't now worried about the current surge in cases.

"There's always that concern, and always that thought in the back of your mind, 'Is there someone with whom she'll come in contact who's not been vaccinated, that may pass through Delta variant on? And so it's scary," Wells said.

ABC News says AARP estimates that 78% of long-term care residents are fully vaccinated.

The retirement organization estimates only 56.7% of staff are fully vaccinated.

Medicare data shows only 53% of nursing home staff in North Carolina are vaccinated.

That ranks 39th among the 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C.

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"We need to go further and faster with increasing our vaccination rates," said Adam Sholar CEO of the North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association.

Last week he authored a letter in support of vaccine requirements for employees at nursing homes.

He knows that in an industry already short-staffed telling workers they must be vaccinated may mean losing employees that can't be replaced.

But he felt it was important to support employers saying, "What we as an organization wanted to convey in this message is, you know, each individual member facility needs to decide what's right for them, but this this increasing notion of making vaccination a condition of employment for members who felt they were capable of putting that in place, we supported that."

There is some good news locally.

Durham and Wake Counties are both above the state and national average vaccination rate for nursing home workers at 69.2% and 60.1% respectively, according to Medicare data.

Unfortunately, Cumberland County is below both the state and nation at just 49.3%.

Phil Wells, whose mother has been vaccinated says he's grateful for the work nursing home employees have put in during the pandemic to keep her and so many thousands of others like her safe.

But he admits he can't help being selfish saying, "I wish everyone with whom she comes in contact would be vaccinated."

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