As the coronavirus pandemic descended upon the world in 2020 and into 2021, many in the long-term healthcare industry saw unique challenges emerge. At-risk residents of nursing homes and skilled care facilities became infected, resulting in thousands of deaths of residents and their caregivers. Now, as vaccines have become widely available in the fight against COVID-19, many facilities are requiring staff to be vaccinated. In a risk management strategy that includes nursing home insurance, what are the liability risks associated with these vaccine mandates? In this guide, we will explore what vaccine mandates may mean for the long-term healthcare sector.
CMS Moves to Mandate COVID Vaccines
On August 18, 2021, the Biden Administration announced that in order to receive funding from Medicare and Medicaid, nursing homes must mandate vaccinations for staff members. This requirement affects about 15,000 facilities across the United States and would impact just over 1.5 million employees. The vaccine mandate is expected to take effect in the fall and will be issued as a regulation by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
Vaccination programs at the end of 2020 and the early part of 2021 targeted residents of nursing homes and senior care centers. As a result, CMS estimates that about 82% of nursing home residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, yet only about 60% of nursing home staff are vaccinated. As the Delta variant spreads throughout the country, unvaccinated healthcare workers pose significant risks to elderly residents – even if those residents have already been vaccinated. Rising infection rates are straining exhausted facilities, potentially leading to an increase in nursing home insurance claims.
What the Mandates Mean for Nursing Homes
Nursing homes in the U.S. face a difficult choice: do they implement vaccine mandates, or do they risk losing Medicare/Medicaid funding? One potential side effect of implementing a COVID vaccine mandate is the loss of healthcare workers, increasing the burden on facilities that are already understaffed. This potential outcome is so dangerous that one of the leading long-term healthcare advocacy groups cautioned the Biden Administration against following through with vaccine mandates. The major concern for nursing homes is when staffing levels drop, claims of negligence and neglect can result in steep legal defense expenses. Although nursing home insurance is designed to provide coverage for these expenses, excessive claims may drive up premium costs.
Another of the most prevalent concerns about vaccine mandates is the fear of discrimination claims filed against facilities by workers who do not wish to be vaccinated. According to federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws, these laws do not prevent healthcare facilities from implementing vaccine mandates. A comprehensive nursing home insurance policy often includes employment practices liability coverage; this coverage may be needed against an onslaught of legal claims. These claims may arise if facilities do not provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities or religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving COVID vaccines even if mandated.
For now, the Biden Administration is encouraging nursing homes to work with CMS in implementing staff vaccination drives before the regulation takes effect. Facilities should also review their nursing home insurance polices to ensure that the coverage is sufficient for current and emerging risk profiles.
About Caitlin Morgan
Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at (877) 226-1027.
Social Title: COVID Vaccine Mandates in Nursing Homes: Critical Information for Managers
Social Description: As vaccine mandates are implemented across the long-term healthcare industry, new liability exposures demand robust risk management strategies for nursing homes.