Vaccine Mandates Impact Staffing & Create More PRN Healthcare Jobs
As the Delta Variant spreads across the country, COVID case numbers are on the rise again. The state of Florida reported over 21,000 new cases of COVID in a single day, Saturday, July 31. That’s the highest the state has seen since the onset of the pandemic. Similar spikes in cases are being seen around the country, and healthcare officials nationwide are concerned.
The beginning of 2021 pushed hard to make COVID vaccinations available to the population, and community vaccination rates went steadily up, until peaking April 8 at over 4 million doses administered. After the peak, vaccination rates dropped steadily until settling at around 500,000 per day in June and July. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) vaccination tracking shows that about 165,000,000 (exact number not provided due to constant change) which turns out to be just under 50% of the U.S. population.
The drop-off in vaccination has healthcare officials concerned, particularly because not all healthcare workers are vaccinated. Over 430 hospitals across the country have mandated vaccines, and most notable among them, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).
VA Mandates COVID Vaccination Among Staff – Gives Eight Week Deadline
Monday, July 26th, the VA issued a press release stating the following:
“Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced he will make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for Title 38 VA health care personnel — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors — who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit VHA facilities or provide direct care to those VA serves.”
It’s a bold move, but one that comes with support from several large healthcare organizations. According to the press release, employees will receive paid time off for up to four hours, can be vaccinated at any of the VA facilities for free, and have eight weeks to accomplish full vaccination. Reportedly, the VA has had more than 12,000 COVID-related patient deaths, four employee deaths in the last month, and their number of confirmed cases has more than doubled since June.
Joint Statement Published Urging COVID Vaccine Mandate
The VA’s decision comes on the heels of a joint statement published and signed by over 50 medical groups, including several large nursing organizations. The joint statement calls for mandating COVID vaccinations citing concern that, “many healthcare and long-term care personnel remain unvaccinated.”
This joint statement was perhaps at least in part prompted by the notable media attention some hospitals are getting as their employees refuse to accede to employer COVID vaccine mandates. Houston Methodist hospital recently lost 153 employees; who either resigned or were fired for refusal to vaccinate.
Long Term Care Facilities Hesitate to Mandate COVID Vaccine
While there seems to be overwhelming support for a vaccine mandate, the long-term care sector is less enthusiastic. Long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities have long battled staffing issues with high turnover rates. Consequently, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. These facilities rely heavily on PRN staffing agencies, and fear of pushback from their regularly employed staff has them over a barrel. Over 3 million people in long-term care facilities have been fully vaccinated but the number of vaccinated staff in these facilities varies widely.
Some Healthcare Unions Taking a Stand
In the case of Houston Methodist hospital, the employees filed a lawsuit, but a Texas federal judge dismissed the case. In New Jersey, the largest health care workers’ union, Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) says that while it supports vaccination efforts, a mandate is taking it too far. 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East has a union membership of almost half a million workers spanning across Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Florida, and Washington DC and has taken a firm stand on the issue, saying “Vaccine Yes, Mandate No” in their most recent press release about the issue.
The issue according to unions who oppose a mandate is that union-protected workers should have the right to bargaining when new conditions of employment are created with a consequence of termination. Many unvaccinated healthcare workers report that they are waiting on the standard safety testing period and official approval. Currently, all three available vaccines in the U.S. are only approved for emergency use.
Is a COVID Vaccine Mandate Legal?
As is often the case, it seems questions of the legality of a COVID vaccine mandate depend on interpretation. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently stated that federal laws don’t prohibit an employer from issuing a COVID vaccine mandate to its employees. Alternatively, Montana’s Governor has signed a bill that prohibits employers from issuing a mandate.
An Alternative to the Mandate May Be a Solution for Long-Term Care Facilities
Atlantic Health System in New Jersey decided not to mandate the vaccine, instead offering employees two options: vaccination, or weekly testing. Federal employees will also be given a similar set of options: vaccination, or weekly testing, masking, and no work travel.
This seems like a tolerable middle road option for facilities concerned about losing staff. After all, we’ve been writing about staffing shortages in the health care industry for months and as the Delta Variant sweeps through PRN staff are in high demand nationwide.
What Does This Mean for PRN RNs, LPNs, and CNAs?
As the summer begins to close, and the case numbers rise, medical facilities are utilizing PRN staff to meet their needs. Browse available PRN healthcare jobs near you, opportunities abound and rates are starting to increase for vaccinated staff to fill in gaps. It’s important to read the position requirements thoroughly before applying for a PRN shift on your account. If you have a COVID-19 vaccine, make sure you’ve uploaded your vaccination certification into your digital portfolio so it’s available to your potential employers. If you’re not vaccinated for COVID-19 don’t stress too much, not every health care facility is mandating COVID vaccines yet. If you want to learn more about the PRN staffing industry, read our recent blog that covers why per diem healthcare jobs are here to stay.