PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers could force a nonprofit group home operator to kick out some residents later this month because there won’t be enough staff to care for the adults with intellectual disabilities who live there, a nonprofit leader said.

Unvaccinated health care workers were required to get a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by last Friday to comply with the state mandate by Oct. 29. The John F. Murphy Homes in Auburn is one of several facility operators around the state that could lose significant numbers of staff.

“There is no doubt we will have disruptions. There will be people that will lose their placement, and it’s awful,” said Todd Goodwin, CEO of John F. Murphy Homes.

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Goodwin said he’s reached out to the state and exchanged some emails, but so far there has been no discussion about how to solve the problem. State officials couldn’t be reached to discuss what might be done about this and similar situations around the state.

State officials have held fast to the deadline and defended the mandate against critics, saying all health care workers should be vaccinated to protect the health of their patients and coworkers. There is no option for workers to instead get regular tests because that is not an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, state officials have said.

Goodwin said about 80 of some 350 health care workers at John F. Murphy Homes had yet to get their vaccinations as of last week, and this week he should have a better idea of how many will have to leave. But in an industry already dealing with severe staff shortages, losing dozens of staff members because they refuse to get vaccinated will cause a severe hardship, he said.

Goodwin said he expects up to eight adults with intellectual disabilities — including some with severe disabilities who live at Two Teakwood Knolls group home — will lose their services and new housing would have to be found for them. Goodwin said there’s nowhere to place them.

“What’s going to happen to them? No one is going to take them,” Goodwin said. “If you don’t have workers, you can’t take care of the people. It’s a real dilemma, and the state doesn’t have a Plan B.”

Goodwin said the nonprofit has done everything it can to encourage vaccination, offering bonuses, paid time off, vaccine clinics and educational sessions with experts. While the vaccination rate has improved, “we’ve reached a certain plateau” and he expects they will have to fire some workers for refusing to get immunized.

With enforcement of the mandate looming, immunization among health care workers has increased, according to data posted last week by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

From August to the end of September, statewide hospital staff vaccination rates increased from 85 to 92 percent, and in assisted-living facilities from 78 to 88 percent. Nursing homes saw a jump in employee vaccinations from 77 to 86 percent, the state reported.

But a number of facilities — including three group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities and three nursing homes — had vaccination rates of 60 percent or lower at the end of September, which means those health care providers could face significant staffing challenges when the mandate kicks in.

Central Maine Healthcare officials have also said that the mandate could force the Lewiston hospital to close some services, such as neonatal intensive care, pediatric care and some trauma services.

The state is giving health care providers more flexibility as they hire to fill positions that open when unvaccinated workers resign or are fired.

“Maine DHHS and CDC will use enforcement discretion during this time-limited period to allow health care facilities subject to the emergency rule to hire a new employee who has received at least a first dose of an authorized COVID-19 vaccine prior to the employee’s start date. This is conditional on the employer ensuring that the employee uses appropriate personal protective equipment and is tested at least weekly until the employee is fully vaccinated,” according to a Maine DHHS news release last week.

Health care workers who are terminated from their jobs for refusing to be vaccinated will in most cases not be permitted to collect unemployment, according to an August posting on the Maine Department of Labor website.

© 2021 Portland Press Herald
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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