HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Pennsylvania Department of Health said today they expect all of Pa.’s nursing homes to have at least 80% of staff vaccinated by October 1.

The Dept. of Health made the announcement Thursday at Mechanicsburg’s Bethany Village. They said currently 12.5% of skilled nursing facilities have staff vaccinated at or above 80%, which they say is not enough to prevent future outbreaks.

“As COVID-19 cases rise, we are committed to helping prevent outbreaks by stopping COVID-19 from entering a nursing home in the first place, and one of the best ways we can do this is through vaccinating staff in skilled nursing facilities,” Pa. DOH Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter said. “Getting 80 percent of nursing home staff vaccinated is aggressive, but achievable. As we have seen over the past 17 months, COVID-19 kills. Getting vaccinated is the most effective measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health of residents, staff and the community.”

They said any SNF’s that don’t meet this requirement by Oct. 1 will be required to do frequent testing of unvaccinated employees. For those that do, the department will utilize surveillance and outbreak testing through a federal Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grant.

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The goal is to increase the rate of vaccination, make sure testing is occurring frequently in areas where transmission is high and vaccination is low and improve transparency for the public on vaccinations in nursing home facilities.

The department also announced a new dashboard to show that vaccination data frequently submitted to the federal government.

“By making this data available in this format it is more useable for the public,” Klinepeter said. “We want families to see the vaccination rates where their loved ones are living and working. If you don’t like what you see, contact the facility and encourage them to take the necessary steps to increase staff vaccination rates to keep COVID-19 out. We remain committed to protecting those who have been working on the front line of this pandemic over the past year and a half and will continue to ensure our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians are safe.”

The announcement comes as multiple organizations and states are requiring proof of vaccination for staff in nursing homes. Massachusetts recently announced their nursing home staff must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1.

“Nursing home residents have been disproportionately impacted by this virus,” said Margaret Barajas, State Long-Term Care Ombudsman. “The commonwealth’s leadership in prioritizing their safety through this focused effort to get more staff vaccinated is a critical next step to protecting our most vulnerable residents from a potentially deadly infectious disease. We have an ethical imperative to do this. They’re counting on us.”

Earlier in the week, Governor Tom Wolf announced a new vaccine initiative that required Commonwealth employees in state health care facilities and high-risk congregate-care facilities to get vaccinated by September 7.

The Wolf administration also announced a vaccine incentive for state employees under the governor’s jurisdiction. On October 1, all vaccinated state employees are eligible for an additional 7.5 to 8 hours of paid time off.

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