Kansas nursing homes with COVID clusters have low staff vaccination rates as vaccine mandates near

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
A federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate on health care workers was officially announced on Thursday.

Federal authorities have finalized a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, including those at nursing homes, as outbreaks at Kansas facilities tend to coincide with low staff vaccination rates.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services unveiled its mandate on Thursday, which requires workers at facilities receiving agency money to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

"Ensuring patient safety and protection from COVID-19 has been the focus of our efforts in combatting the pandemic and the constantly evolving challenges we’re seeing," CMS administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement.

The announcement comes as coronavirus clusters continue to affect nursing homes across the state.

As of Wednesday, Kansas had 51 active COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Those clusters had 517 cases, 40 hospitalizations and 24 deaths.

More:Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announces lawsuit over large employer vaccine mandate

CMS data show nursing home vaccination rates in Kansas are below average. Kansas ranks 37th with 66% of staff vaccinated and  29th with 87% of residents vaccinated.

"CMS knows that everyone working in health care wants to do what is best to keep their patients safe," the agency said in a statement. "Yet, unvaccinated staff pose both a direct and indirect threat to the very patients that they serve."

The agency first announced plans for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate at nursing homes on Aug. 18. Biden announced Sept. 9 that the nursing home requirement was being expanded to all health care facilities receiving CMS money as part of a broader federal effort to mandate vaccination.

The Biden administration's rule applies to about 17 million health care workers across 76,000 hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities nationwide. Medical and religious exemptions are available.

Since Sept. 8, KDHE has reported 80 new outbreaks at long-term care facilities. In that same time, 70 deaths were connected to clusters at LTCFs.

More:Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly questions Joe Biden vaccine mandates on federal workers

The health department has publicly identified 46 long-term care facilities on active cluster lists during that time. Thirty-four of those appeared on the CMS report of vaccination rates at federally-licensed facilities, with only eight meeting the agency's 75% staff vaccination goal and only one exceeding 90%.

Below is a searchable database of federally-licensed facilities and vaccination rates as reported by CMS on Thursday.

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has a goal to reach a vaccination rate of at least 90% among health care personnel at long-term care facilities. KDADS has a database and map of staff vaccination rates at federally licensed facilities available online.

Only four facilities have met the KDADS goal: Brighton Place North in Topeka, Infinity Park Post-Acute and Rehabilitation Center in Overland Park, Medicalodges Clay Center and Medicalodges Wichita.

Concerns that COVID vaccine mandate will 'exacerbate an already dire workforce crisis in long term care'

Former Kansas governor Mark Parkinson, now the president of a national organization representing care facilities, said the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living appreciates Biden's vaccination efforts.

"While we support the overall intent of this CMS policy, we are concerned that the execution will exacerbate an already dire workforce crisis in long term care," Parkinson said in a statement. "A hard deadline with no resources for providers or glide path for unvaccinated workers is likely to push too many out the door and ultimately, threaten residents' access to long term care. 

"Even a small percentage of staff members leaving their jobs due to this mandate would have a disastrous impact on vulnerable seniors who need around-the-clock care."

The Overland Park-based National Rural Health Association "believes it is important for all healthcare workers to be vaccinated, to protect both themselves and their community," CEO Alan Morgan said in a statement in USA Today. "However, vaccine mandates will result in rural service disruptions. And as such, targeted rural federal workforce plans must be communicated and implemented."

More:17 million health care workers must be vaccinated by Jan. 4 under Biden's COVID-19 mandate

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, poses questions during the Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates.

During last week's meeting of the Legislature's anti-mandate committee, Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, raised concerns over lost jobs.

"I'm struggling with the whole, well if you don't like it, you can get another job," he said.

Business rights and nursing home vaccinations

Eric Stafford, representing the Kansas Chamber, told the Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates that the business group is opposed to government vaccine mandates.

However, the chamber does not object to businesses opting to impose such requirements on their own. Likewise, the chamber does not want government to block mandates by businesses.

"I'm not for mandates either," Masterson said. "There's probably nobody more free market, less government intrusion, than myself. But it feels like we have a line here, where constitutional rights of the individual may at some point conflict with that of the business entity, because a business in and of itself doesn't have a constitutional right but the individual however does."

Businesses do, in fact, have some constitutional rights.

"Can you even as a business then mandate to the level that I'm injecting something that's objectionable," he said.

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Stafford suggested that businesses sometimes have to make decisions that reduce their own potential liability, even if it negatively affects employees.

"I want to use in this example nursing homes, because we know that this disease largely impacts the elderly people and people with underlying health conditions," he said. "If I'm a business owner who owns a private network of nursing homes that cares for these individuals and I need my staff to be vaccinated to do anything I can to help reduce risk for our customers."

"I think you've already passed the assumption," Masterson said, cutting off Stafford. "The assumption is I need to have all my staff vaccinated to do that. ... There's natural immunities, there's all kinds of other options, if you will. Not to mention the exemptions we've been talking about, religious exemption, medical exemptions."

Vaccination offers a higher degree of protection than natural immunity, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The data demonstrate that vaccination can provide a higher, more robust, and more consistent level of immunity to protect people from hospitalization for COVID-19 than infection alone for at least 6 months," the agency said in an Oct. 29 news release.

Stafford said businesses should be free to require masks and vaccines if they so choose.

"The businesses, they were working fine without the vaccine mandate," he said. "They were addressing their employees, in our view, they were managing everything to the best of their ability for what's best for their company."

More:Kansas assessment scores show post-pandemic dip in academic achievement

Stafford said the chamber does not want the government to ban businesses from imposing such requirements on their own because "each circumstance is different."

"You just made a comment they were doing fine without any mandates," said Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City. "But we have a lot of evidence out there that that's not necessarily true. We have had outbreaks. ... There are reasons to address that that COVID-19 and the delta variant are real."

"Businesses aren't at fault for the clusters in infections, I think that's maybe assumed in your statement there," Stafford said. "That's the thing, this virus is going to ebb and flow, just like all viruses do."

Kansas long-term facilities with COVID clusters

Below is a list of long-term care facilities publicly identified by the KDHE as having at least one active outbreak since Sept. 8. In parenthesis are the latest staff vaccination rates as reported by CMS for federally-licensed establishments.

  • Cheney Golden Age Home (43.8%).
  • Elmhaven East Skilled Nursing Facility in Parsons (77.9).
  • Hilltop Manor Skilled Nursing Facility in Cunningham (68.9).
  • Homestead of El Dorado.
  • Kidron Bethel in North Newton (74.9).
  • Lansing Care and Rehab (70.0).
  • Leisure Homestead Association in Stafford (65.5).
  • Linn Community Nursing Home (72.7).
  • Parkside Homes in Hillsboro (0).
  • Villa St. Francis in Olathe (68.6).
  • Advena Living on Woodlawn in Wichita.
  • Azria Health in Great Bend (55.8).
  • Good Samaritan Society Ellis (50.8).
  • Homestead of Overland Park.
  • Kenwood View in Salina (51.2).
  • Lemke Memorial Hospital Long Term Care Unit in WaKeeney (80.6).
  • Riverview Estates in Marquette (71.2).
  • The Shepherd's Center in Cimarron (52.6).
  • Advena Living on 10th in Topeka.
  • Catholic Care Center in Bel Aire (75.0).
  • Heritage Gardens Health and Rehabilitation Center in Oskaloosa (71.2).
  • Medicalodges of Goddard (93.6).
  • The Oxford Grand at New Market in Wichita.
  • Village Shalom in Overland Park (80.6).
  • Azria Health in Wichita.
  • Bethany Village in Lindsborg (65.9).
  • Brookdale Fairdale in Salina.
  • Country Place Senior Living in Hoisington.
  • Homestead of Olathe.
  • Kansas Christian Home in Newton (85.9).
  • Legacy on College Hill in Wichita (42.1).
  • Sharon Lane in Shawnee (66.3).
  • The Legacy on 10th Avenue in Topeka (54.2).
  • Anthology of Olathe.
  • Bethel Home in Montezuma (81.3).
  • Ultra Care Home Plus in Wichita.
  • Lake Point of El Dorado (74).
  • Wichita Presbyterian Manor (72.3).
  • Diversicare of Chanute (56.4).
  • Good Samaritan Society Valley Vista in Wamego (69.4).
  • Presbyterian Manor in Newton (66.1).
  • Schowalter Villa of Hesston (69.4).
  • Brookdale Rosehill in Shawnee (84.1).
  • Dominican Sisters of Peace in Great Bend.
  • Meridian Health and Rehab in Wichita (40.6).
  • Sterling Village in Sterling (50.0).

Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at jtidd@gannett.com.