04 Nov WisBusiness, WisPolitics Health Care Report for Nov. 4
The head of a long-term care network in Wisconsin warns the industry’s staffing shortage will be amplified by the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate once it goes into effect Jan. 4.
“It’s unlikely we’re going to be achieving 100 percent vaccination rate by January 4, just because individuals still have the right to decide if they’re going to be vaccinated or not,” said John Sauer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin. “The regulation holds facilities accountable for individuals’ decision-making regarding the vaccine.”
The newly issued vaccination and testing mandate applies to businesses with more than 100 employees. In an interview today, Sauer explained the mandate also applies to certified Medicaid and Medicare providers, including about 355 nursing facilities in Wisconsin and hundreds of other care providers in the state such as clinics, hospices, ambulatory surgical centers, rehabilitation centers and many more.
Under the mandate, employers must ensure their workers are vaccinated or provide weekly negative COVID-19 test results. Unvaccinated employees covered by the mandate will also need to wear masks at work starting Dec. 5.
Sauer said he believes the intent of the mandate is “appropriate,” and noted long-term careproviders in the state have been working to increase staff vaccination rates. He said nearly 68 percent of nursing facility staff in Wisconsin are currently vaccinated, but added that many who aren’t say “no amount of encouragement, incentives or education” will convince them to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
After Jan. 4, nursing facilities will start being inspected, Sauer said, and staff vaccination rates will be reviewed. If that rate is under 100 percent excluding exempted workers, some level of enforcement will be taken, he said. That can include civil monitoring penalties, denial of payments through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and potential termination from the program.
“What we’re seeking clarification on is what about steps below those significant and somewhat permanent penalties,” he said. “Will the regulatory system allow for a plan of correction that gives the provider additional time without facing a significant fine or penalty, such that the facility will be able to work with staff over a longer period of time to try and achieve a higher vaccination rate?”
He argues the approach of mandating the vaccine “has a blind eye towards the staffing crisis” that’s already straining the capacity of long-term care.
“Even if we only lose, you know, 5 percent of our workforce … that’s 5 percent that we can’t afford to lose,” he said. “That’s the reality in which we operate today. The entire health and long-term care system is incredibly stressed right now because of the workforce crisis.”
Because employers will bear the brunt of enforcement actions, Sauer said he thinks “some allowances, some accomodation and some additional time to try and achieve compliance” are needed for the long-term care industry.
He also said the mandate would create an “uneven playing field,” as assisted living providers with fewer than 100 employees wouldn’t be included because they’re not certified Medicaid and Medicare providers. They receive Medicaid funding through the Family Care program, but that money is provided through a waiver program granted by the federal government, he explained.
“But you do not need to be a certified Medicaid provider in order to receive those funds,” Sauer said. “In our state you might be licensed or registered as an assisted living provider but you’re not a certified Medicaid provider, per say. And that’s the area where the federal system does not reach.”
The state Department of Justice collected over 57,000 pounds of unwanted medications during last month’s Drug Take Back Day, a release shows.
DOJ says Wisconsin’s effort collected more medications than any other state in the country during the national event on Oct. 23. Texas is the only other state that collected more than 50,000 pounds of meds.
“Thank you to the folks from across the state who made Wisconsin’s Drug Take Back the most successful in the nation,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a release. “By safely disposing of tens of thousands of pounds of unused and unwanted medications, Wisconsinites have ensured that those medications won’t be diverted for misuse.”
Wisconsin has 497 permanent drug disposal boxes that can be used year-round, located at hospitals, pharmacies, health clinics and law enforcement agencies, DOJ says. The medications collected during this year’s Drug Take Back Day were transported to Indianapolis for incineration.
See a list of drop box locations in the state.
See a map of collections by state.
The latest Marquette University Law School Poll shows more than 70 percent of registered voters surveyed are very or somewhat concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic.
A release shows 40 percent of respondents said they’re “very concerned” about the COVID-19 pandemic, 34 percent said they’re somewhat concerned and 25 percent said they’re not too concerned or not concerned at all. The previous poll in August did not include this question.
Of respondents who haven’t been vaccinated against the virus, 56 percent said they will definitely not get the vaccine and 18 percent said they probably won’t get it. Seven percent said they will definitely get vaccinated and 15 percent said they will probably get vaccinated.
See more results in a release below.