CMS: Nursing Home Staff Must Be Fully Vaccinated By Jan. 4

November 4, 2021, Jordyn Reiland, Skilled Nursing News - Medicare and Medicaid participating health care facilities, including nursing homes, will be required to have all staff members fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, according to an emergency regulation issued Thursday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS).

The CMS regulation further states that facilities must establish a policy ensuring that staff have received the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose vaccine by Dec. 5.

The regulation allows for exemptions based on recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances or practices — and the nursing home is required to develop its own process or plan to allow for those exemptions. 

CMS worked with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop the vaccine mandate guidance. OSHA also issued its vaccine mandate guidance for employers with more than 100 employees on Thursday.

“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,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in a press release.  “Today’s action addresses the risk of unvaccinated health care staff to patient safety and provides stability and uniformity across the nation’s health care system to strengthen the health of people and the providers who care for them.”

President Joe Biden initially announced a mandate for all nursing home employees in August, but soon after extended it to include any health care provider that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding. 

The expansion included hospitals, home-health agencies, ambulatory surgical settings and dialysis centers, among others.

Meanwhile, several states like Massachusetts and New York have implemented their own mandates for health care workers, and many nursing home operators announced similar measures for all their employees.

New York’s SNF staff vaccination rate reached 97% as of Nov. 1, as the state imposed a deadline to be vaccinated by Sept. 28.

Booster shots for the vaccine have also been approved for the Moderna, Pfizer and Janssen COVID-19 vaccines for certain individuals, including residents and health care workers in long-term care.

Still, staff vaccination rates continue to lag behind resident numbers. Nationally, staff vaccination rates for nursing homes currently sit at 71.2%, according to the CMS data last updated Oct. 28.  Resident rates have reached 85.9% though some states like Vermont appear to be doing better than others such as Nevada.

The agency also launched a new tool in September to make it easier to compare vaccination rates at any federally funded facility in the country.