County nursing home prepares to rehome residents as staff shortage wor

Monitor staff
Published: 11/21/2021 9:36:11 PM

Belknap County Nursing Home is preparing to rehome about a third of its residents as a mass staffing shortage appears imminent in December, the home’s administrator said.

Shelley Richardson, the administrator of the facility, said she is preparing for a worst-case scenario, in which all 33 of her unvaccinated employees leave their jobs once the federal vaccine mandate deadline arrives.

The federal government imposed a vaccine mandate for employees of healthcare facilities that rely on Medicare and Medicaid dollars, which applies to about 70 facilities statewide. Employees must have received either their first dose of a two-shot mRNA series or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Dec. 5.

Belknap County Nursing Home sits in one of the least vaccinated counties in New Hampshire, where about half the residents have not received a COVID-19 shot. Out of the 33 unvaccinated employees, at least 10 of them have told Richardson they will not be getting vaccinated.

Any loss of staff in the current hiring climate would be difficult. A loss of 10 or more would be unsustainable. She made the difficult decision to start finding beds for about 20 residents.

“We want to meet the needs of the people, we do,” she said. “But I would never jeopardize anybody’s safety or their care.”

Richardson said she’s had some early success finding facilities with beds available, but many other nursing homes are facing the same challenge as she is. If all of her unvaccinated staff leave, she will need to find beds for about 19 residents.

Many of the homes she has contacted, like Hillsborough County Nursing Home, have already consolidated their facilities or closed down wings. Others have hundreds of people on their waiting lists.

“There needs to be a huge discussion,” she said. “I went to every place and down every avenue.”

Jake Leon, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, said facilities with worsening staffing problems may need to prepare to transfer their residents to maintain staffing ratio requirements.

“Long term care facilities and healthcare providers throughout the state nationwide have struggled with workforce shortages for many months,” Leon said. “The issue is becoming more acute as the pandemic continues, with overburdened healthcare workers leaving the workforce.”

Richardson said decisions about who will remain in the facility and who will leave will come down to each resident’s care needs. She said she will work closely with the state’s long-term care ombudsman to make these determinations if the time comes.

She said many of her unvaccinated employees are holding out hope that the requirement will change by early December.

New Hampshire joined several other Republican-led states in a lawsuit challenging a vaccine mandate for businesses with more than 100 employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Wednesday that it would pause enforcing the business mandate in light of the pending litigation.

Furthermore, unlike the vaccine requirement imposed on businesses, the federal government’s mandate for healthcare facilities does not have an option for weekly COVID-19 testing in place of vaccination.

“I don’t understand why people aren’t more upset,” Richardson said.

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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