Photo via St. Paul's on Facebook

KAUKAUNA — St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna today announced it will require staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.

In an announcement on its Facebook page, St. Paul said that the outbreaks in 2020 were traced back to staff who unknowingly brought the virus into their facilities.

“Those outbreaks resulted in the deaths of 31 individuals in our care, dozens of infections among staff, and immeasurable heartache for residents and families who were isolated from each other for so long,” read the post.

The move is an effort to avoid strict safety measures imposed on nursing homes if there is a reported outbreak, which would again restrict visitation, activities and dining.

Currently, St. Paul says that around 75% of its staff is fully vaccinated, which is higher than most other long-term care organizations.

“However, as transmission of Covid19 in our area is once again in the ‘high’ category, the risk that this virus comes through our doors again is more than we are able to accept without taking every measure available to us to mitigate that risk,” said St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s said they will hire unvaccinated staff members on the condition that they agree to being fully vaccinated by a certain date following their hire, with the first dose of vaccine being required before or on the day of their general orientation.

Read the full news release here.

After careful consideration, and in consultation with our Medical Director, our Ethics Committee, and our Sponsor, St. Paul Elder Services, Inc. has determined that it is in the best interests of the people we serve and employ to require the Covid19 vaccine for associates as a condition of employment.

Despite being as prepared and resourced as any long-term care organization in the nation, during the second half of 2020, St. Paul Elder Services and McCormick Assisted Living experienced significant outbreaks of Covid19 that were traced back to staff who unknowingly brought the virus through our doors.

Those outbreaks resulted in the deaths of 31 individuals in our care, dozens of infections among staff, and immeasurable heartache for residents and families who were isolated from each other for so long. The trauma that we endured continues to be present in our lives, with post-traumatic stress triggers being all around us as Covid19 once again surges in Wisconsin. And we are nowhere near alone in any of that.

Our brothers and sisters in the healthcare profession across this country and the world have had, and continue to have, the same experiences. Indeed, in many parts of our country right now, health care workers are once again being asked to sacrifice everything to care for those who are becoming seriously ill, particularly with the super-virulent Delta strain of Covid19.

The majority of hospitals and states that are reporting data on Covid19-related hospitalizations are reporting that 90%+ of patients were unvaccinated prior to their infections, which is real-world proof that the Covid19 vaccines are extremely effective at preventing serious illness and death. Even more tragically, as the Delta variant spreads and easily finds the unvaccinated, children are now being infected with Covid19 at much higher rates than ever before in the pandemic, with Children’s Hospitals and pediatric ICUs reporting that they are at capacity in several parts of the country.

Everywhere we look, we are seeing undeniable signs that the healthcare workers are not alright. For that reason, among many others related to our ethical and moral obligations and the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, nearly every major medical trade and professional association in this country has taken the position that the Covid19 vaccine should be made a condition of employment in health care settings.

As an organization, once the Covid19 vaccine became available to us, we offered both incentives to take the vaccine and numerous opportunities for education on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. We are proud that those efforts resulted in around 75% of our staff becoming fully vaccinated, which is higher than most other long-term care organizations were able to achieve. However, as transmission of Covid19 in our area is once again in the “high” category, the risk that this virus comes through our doors again is more than we are able to accept without taking every measure available to us to mitigate that risk.

The state and federal agencies that regulate long-term care facilities continue to consider even one staff member testing positive for Covid19 to constitute an “outbreak,” which then triggers the need to initiate numerous other testing, symptom screening, and quarantining protocols. If we were to discover any evidence of internal spread of Covid19 at this time, we would have to initiate more restrictive measures affecting resident quality of life, including related to visitation, activities, and dining. Again, with what we saw and learned over the last 18 months about the impact that social isolation has on our residents and patients, we simply have to use every tool in our toolbox to prevent such a scenario.

Our residents’ lives can never again be the price that our society pays for this pandemic continuing to surge. Even as we have upgraded our HVAC equipment and learned more about how Covid19 spreads (airborne aerosols), long-term care facilities are still ill-equipped to prevent the spread of an airborne virus. Truly the only tool we have to assure those we serve and employ that they are as safe as possible here is the vaccine. We have had numerous internal discussions about the pros and cons of making the vaccine a condition of employment.

We fully acknowledge that there are some employees who will make the decision to resign because they do not want to be vaccinated. We pray that number is minimal. We pray that all of our associates embrace medical expertise, advice, and science and reject the misinformation and disinformation that is fueling the remaining vaccine hesitancy among us.

We pray that everyone in the St. Paul and McCormick families sees the Covid19 vaccine as the life-saving gift from God that it is. We believe that the risk of losing employees due to our decision to make the Covid19 vaccine a condition of employment is outweighed by the risk of losing employees who would not be able to cope with the physical and emotional demands of continued outbreaks in our facilities and the cascading repercussions of such outbreaks.

Beyond the reasons already shared behind our decision, there are numerous other factors that were considered, from business matters to clinical operations and outcomes. Future legal liability, increased insurance costs, and heightened scrutiny by federal and state agencies are all very real possibilities for health care employers who do not require their staff to be vaccinated, along with quality measures that carry penalties.

From a staffing perspective, having all of our staff vaccinated will result in fewer call-ins related to exposures and the need to quarantine, which we will no doubt see on the rise along with the increased transmission happening in our area. From a resident quality of life perspective, our residents have not seen our smiling faces in 18 months. This is their home, and they need to be able to see our faces, not only for comfort, but for the ability to read lips for those who are hard of hearing.

The only way we will get to a place of being able to remove our masks is when this national public health emergency ends, and we must do all we can to contribute to this nightmare being over. 100% of our residents in our assisted living facilities, and nearly 100% of our residents and patients in our nursing home have elected to be fully vaccinated for Covid19. Among this generation, vaccines are not new, as they have seen serious diseases eradicated through successful vaccines in their lifetimes.

They believe in the safety, efficacy, and necessity of vaccines, and they should have a right to expect that the care they pay for is provided by individuals who respect the fundamental public health doctrine that personal liberties end where personal decisions impact the health of others. To be sure, we have had multiple residents/patients request that they are cared for only by fully vaccinated individuals. From a legal perspective, courts around the nation have sided with employers when employees have challenged vaccine mandates due to the vaccines being under Emergency Use Authorization. It is clear that employers have the right to make this policy now, even before full approval. It is critical that everyone understand that “Emergency Use Authorization” does NOT mean “experimental.”

The standard for being granted Emergency Use Authorization is extremely high, and such authorization is not given lightly by any means. Additionally, based on the real-world data we now have showing the overwhelming safety and efficacy of the Covid19 vaccine, experts have stated that full approval of at least two of the vaccines is virtually guaranteed at this point. One point that every expert will concede is that, given this is a new virus and a new vaccine, we do not have long-term data on the vaccine. However, the serious long-haul symptoms that many people who have had even mild cases of Covid19 are now experiencing are much more concerning to experts than anything vaccine-related, given the significant scientific understanding of how vaccine technology works in general. As these legal challenges have played out across the country, many employers have been assured by court rulings and have started to announce vaccination requirements for their staff as well.

We are aware of numerous health care systems in Wisconsin that have already announced their decision to require employees to be vaccinated. With all of that said, the compliance date by which all St. Paul and McCormick staff must be fully vaccinated for Covid19 is October 31st. There are two narrow exceptions to our requirement for staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19: the first is a medical/disability exception, as verified in writing by a licensed physician; the second is a sincerely held religious belief. As we get a sense of how many staff will potentially resign between now and October 31st, we will be developing contingency plans as needed to ensure care and service will be provided to our residents and patients with minimal disruption related to staff openings. We look forward to new applicants here as well who want to work for an organization that has made the vaccine a condition of employment for their safety.

With regard to new hires, we will hire unvaccinated individuals on the condition that they agree to being fully vaccinated by a certain date following their hire, with the first dose of vaccine being required before or on the day of their General Orientation with us. Please note that this decision to require vaccination is limited strictly to staff at this time. Mandating the vaccine for residents/patients and/or visitors is a totally different issue that we have not seen enough guidance on at this point to make any such decision. Thank you to our staff, residents, families, and friends your understanding, support, and dedication to our ministry and its mission and purpose.

.

.

.

Paid Partnership - tap to sign up
Paid Partnership
Paid Partnership



By Dan Plutchak

Dan Plutchak, born and raised in Kaukauna, is cofounder of Kaukauna Community News.