Staff vaccination rates at Louisiana nursing homes lag well behind residents

Less than half of Louisiana’s nursing home employees have completed the COVID-19 vaccine, raising concerns that the vulnerable population they serve could see a second tragic surge of illnesses and deaths.

State health department data show only 15 of the 276 nursing homes in Louisiana have vaccination rates higher than 70%, widely considered the basement threshold for herd immunity.

The numbers are far more encouraging for nursing home residents, with the vast majority of Louisiana facilities reporting rates above 80%. But advocates worry new COVID-19 variants could still impact long-term care clients in multiple ways.

“The residents not only potentially could be exposed to the virus, but also … if you take people off the front lines, the care is not good,” said Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care.

“Our hope is that they do get vaccinated for their for their own sake first, and for the welfare of the other residents,” he added. “It’s not just them getting sick, it’s getting sick and not being able to come to work because then it puts a strain on the workforce.”

There are some bright spots in the data. For example, Lambeth House reports that 100% of its residents have been vaccinated, and its employees were required to take the shot. The facility was the site of Louisiana’s first deadly outbreak of COVID-19, with 21 fatalities in the first two months of the pandemic.

Scott Crabtree, CEO of Lambeth House, said leadership decided soon afterward that it would embrace the vaccine as soon as it was available. About 85% of the staff volunteered to receive it. To cover the remaining 15%, Lambeth House made vaccinations mandatory.

About 10 employees who refused to take the shot were terminated, Crabtree said, although they would be “eligible for rehire” if they decided to get vaccinated.

“I think people who just aren’t going to take it probably aren’t changing their mind,” he said.

When asked for comment, Louisiana Nursing Home Association executive director Mark Berger said in an email statement that the full vaccination rate for nursing facility staff is five percentage points higher than the state’s general population. As of Friday, just 36% of eligible Louisiana residents had completed their vaccination series.

“To continue to improve this differential, the Louisiana Nursing Home Association and its member facilities will continue to educate staff on the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety, as well as offer incentives, such as giveaway contests. LNHA is encouraged that the number of staff accepting the vaccine is increasing,” Berger said in the statement.

Berger reported the resident vaccine rate at Louisiana nursing homes is 78%, which he said: “directly correlates with the significant decline of new COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing facilities.”

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