A health-care group that manages six senior living facilities in the Philadelphia region will now require its employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, joining a growing local and national trend among health-care providers.
Nearly all of the 1,200 residents at Wesley Enhanced Living, which runs senior facilities in the city and in Bucks, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties, have already been vaccinated, said Jeff Petty, Wesley’s CEO. But vaccinations among staff were lower, he said. One facility has 90% of its employees vaccinated, but others hovered between 50% and 60%.
In Pennsylvania, 58% of nursing home staff workers have been vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to 81% of the patients they care for. In New Jersey, 80% of residents and 65% of staff have been vaccinated.
“We’ve been talking about it for a number of months. Truly, we do believe the vaccination is effective, and being in the health-care field, we just think it’s the right thing to do to protect not only our residents, who are among the most frail population in the country, but our employees,” Petty said.
The six Wesley facilities had struggled at the beginning of the pandemic to find adequate personal protective equipment for staff, and saw cases among residents hit a peak of about 40 a week in spring 2020. Cases dropped after the facilities were able to get shipments of PPE, but another surge, in the fall and winter before vaccines were available, led to about five to 10 cases per week among residents, Petty said.
“If we had a more powerful answer back in the spring of 2020, like vaccines, we sure would have availed ourselves of that answer back then,” he said.
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He said Wesley officials had seen other health care-providers require the COVID-19 vaccine, including large health systems like Penn Medicine, Trinity Health, and Texas’ Houston Methodist hospital. Juniper Communities and Atria Senior Living, both large senior care groups that have locations in the Philadelphia area, have also required staff to get vaccinated.
“So many more on a daily and weekly basis are mandating across the country. And we finally said we need to be one of those leading this charge,” he said.
Petty said it was unclear what had held back some of his staff from getting vaccinated. “But I have no doubt whatsoever it mirrors the general population’s reticence,” he said.
In Texas, 117 employees sued Houston Methodist over its vaccine policies, calling the vaccines experimental and dangerous and the requirement unethical. A judge threw out that complaint last month.
Months of clinical studies — and millions of doses dispensed around the country — show that the vaccines are safe and effective and serious side effects are vanishingly rare. As the country has reopened, the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have occurred among unvaccinated people. There have been “breakthrough” cases reported in those who are vaccinated, but they generally are not serious.
Petty said that some unvaccinated employees at Wesley said they would get the shot if it was mandated. The company says it will work with a pharmacy to offer vaccines for employees at their facilities, and set a deadline of Sept. 1 for staffers to get the shot.
“At the end of the day, we believe that the vast majority will be vaccinated,” Petty said. “We hope it doesn’t happen, but we are prepared that there will be a small handful that won’t, and we’ll have to deal with that. There’s plenty of time built into the process. Our goal is not to lose any employees.”