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Here’s why N.J.’s largest nursing home company is mandating COVID vaccines for its employees | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

By Elizabeth Lizzy Straus

As the nation braces for more COVID-19 outbreaks brought on by the Delta variant, leaders in the public and private sector need to acknowledge certain realities. To minimize the spread and best protect the country we need to get more people vaccinated. Our national conversation on this particular vaccine has become politicized, amplified (and sometimes distorted) by traditional and social media. This has happened, despite the U.S. surgeons generals from both the Biden and Trump administrations urging all Americans to become vaccinated. The path forward to avoid future lock-downs, personal restrictions and virtual learning for our children could not be clearer.

But the U.S. adult population is still under 50% fully vaccinated, which is well below the threshold needed for so-called herd immunity. Given the reluctance by the federal government to order a general vaccination mandate, it falls to the private sector, along with state and local governments, to take the lead with urgent action.

California became the first state to mandate vaccinations for all its workers and New York City announced the same for its municipal employees. The Veteran Affairs is the first federal agency to mandate vaccination and President Biden just announced all federal workers need to be vaccinated or face regular testing. These are all steps in the right direction but the majority of these mandates come with a big loophole. Employees and contractors have the choice to either become vaccinated or be tested weekly, at taxpayer expense.

The private sector has no choice but to act to protect its customers, employees and their respective families and neighbors. Although most private employers encourage vaccinations, few are requiring them. This posture must change especially in one of the hardest hit industries, healthcare.

That’s why at CareOne we have decided to implement a mandate across our system of assisted living residences, skilled nursing facilities, and long-term acute care hospitals. We know that vaccination is the best weapon we have to protect our patients, co-workers and communities from the devastating impact of COVID-19. We understand that getting vaccinated is a personal choice, which we respect. However, that choice affects many other people and the choice to remain unvaccinated places the individual, our patients, co-workers and families in harm’s way. If all healthcare companies took action to adopt mandatory vaccination policies, we would serve as a model for responsible leadership.

With COVID infections and hospitalizations on the rise again, the healthcare industry needs to win this final battle in our war on this invisible and lethal enemy. Adopting mandatory vaccination for our workforce is the safest option and the best path to success.

We want to be clear that our goal at CareOne is vaccination, not termination. As the largest nursing home operator in New Jersey with more than 11,000 employees and over 70 facilities, we didn’t come to this decision lightly or haphazardly. We’ve heard from many unvaccinated employees that they will feel less hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once full-FDA approval is granted. We expect and hope that at least one vaccine will have full-FDA approval by September 30, which is why we chose that date as the deadline for our staff. We trust that full FDA approval will ease some of the anxiety often expressed by those unvaccinated. This is why we implore the federal government to marshal all its available resources to expedite FDA approval for all pending applications so we can eliminate this significant barrier to our nation’s recovery.

This will take more than just a village. Our country also needs a groundswell of medical, religious and business leaders, along with athletes and other influencers to publicly and vehemently advocate for vaccination. For the long-term interests of our country, our economy and a return to normalcy there’s really no other way forward.

Elizabeth Straus is the executive vice president of CareOne.

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