Exemptions providing out for nursing home vaccine mandate

By The Active Age | May 2, 2022

About 30 percent of Kansas nursing home employees have avoided a required COVID-19 vaccination by claiming religious or medical exemptions, an industry representative said.

The federal government set a March 15 deadline for nursing home staffs to be fully vaccinated or else the facilities where they work would risk losing Medicaid and Medicare funding. 

However, “both state and federal requirements permit exemptions for religious and medical exemptions,” said Debra Zehr of LeadingAge Kansas, which represents nursing homes in the state.

“There’s little latitude by the nursing home operators to question ‘is this really a religious exemption?’ or whatever,” Zehr said. “If a staff member asks, they are granted.”

As of mid-March, about 70 percent of nursing home employees had been vaccinated, she said.

In February, a review of vaccination rates by The Active Age found wide variance within 38 homes in Sedgwick, Butler and Harvey counties. At that time, only four homes had achieved 100 percent vaccination rates while at least eight were under 60 percent. 

In March, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced that state regulators would not enforce the federal vaccination requirement. In response, the federal government said it would hire its own regulators in Kansas.

Nursing homes will still have to comply with many federal regulations related to the vaccination, such as having procedures in place to make the vaccine available to new employees, Zehr said. She expected federal regulators to begin surveying homes in Kansas for compliance last month. 

“It’s complicated, but our providers have known these requirements for some time, and we have been advising them to comply with the requirements, regardless of what the state was or was not doing.”