On August 18, 2021, President Biden announced that nursing home staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or the facilities employing them could lose federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. According to White House officials, the administration plans to issue new regulations through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). When issued, these new regulations will apply to over 15,000 nursing home facilities nationwide, which employ roughly 1.3 million employees.
Many nursing homes, which rely heavily on Medicare and Medicaid funding, have not imposed such requirements as many do not want to risk the possibility of their losing a large percentage of their existing staff as many are already suffering from low staffing numbers.
It is unclear what the deadline is for nursing staffs to make the requirement or for staff to be fully vaccinated in order to continue receiving federal funds. To date, HHS has not yet issued the text of its emergency rule codifying this new policy, but current reporting is that the new rule may take effect this fall.
Employees who are unable to be vaccinated due to disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs may still need to be offered a reasonable accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance that federal law does not prevent an employer from mandating COVID-19 vaccination of its employees, but the EEOC cautioned that employers must still provide reasonable accommodations that do not cause an undue hardship.
HR Works will continue to monitor this and provided updated information as needed.
Next Steps for Employers
Those who operate nursing homes may want to revisit their vaccination policies to ensure their Medicare and Medicaid funding is not in jeopardy or determine if they can absorb the loss of federal funding if they choose not to mandate vaccination of employees. It would also be recommended that employers without an existing rule should educate employees about the upcoming regulation and that they have plans in place to vaccinate employees.
HR Works will continue monitor this situation and provide updated information as needed.