Booster or Bust?

The Danger

The omicron wave hit nursing homes hard. Infections among residents and staff reached record highs. CDC reports at least 40,000 residents tested positive last week alone. New weekly data show a rapid surge in cases among nursing home staff.

Cases for staff hit a record high of more than 67,000 cases the first week of January. Covid is still dangerous to the old and vulnerable. More than 175,000 nursing home residents and workers nationwide have died from COVID-19.

Without a vaccine mandate or testing, many caregivers quit. Staff call-outs and abandonment due to infection worsen pre-existing unsafe staffing. However, vaccine resistance is a major problem too. Staff vaccination at nursing homes and long-term care facilities was slow but nearly 80% of staff are now fully vaccinated compared to 87% of residents. Only 30% have received their boosters – that’s less than half the number of residents who are boosted. Regional differences are significant.

The Great Resignation

These conditions are fueling more burnout. And many caregivers are quitting and moving to home health or hospice. Some employees chose to retire early rather than face the intense workload and coronavirus risks at their jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing home industry has lost more than 420,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic, reducing its workforce to the size it was 15 years ago.

As the omicron variant increases unsafe staffing and poor care at nursing homes nationwide, caregivers refuse to work in unsafe and hostile environments. Frustration is surging among the low-wage workers who make up the backbone of the nursing home industry. Tens of thousands call out sick increasing shortages that already were at unsafe crisis levels.

Of those training to become nursing assistants, many are avoiding nursing homes – where they would earn a median annual wage of $30,120, according to BLS data – and are looking instead for jobs as travel nurses or home health aides.

The Solution

AARP called on nursing homes to require COVID-19 booster shots for their residents and staff. The CDC recommends boosters for nursing home residents. This will increase safety and bring caregivers back.

“The message from recent data is clear: Nursing home residents and staff need booster shots now,” Susan Reinhard, AARP senior vice president and director of the AARP Public Policy Institute, and Ari Houser, a senior methods adviser at the Institute, wrote in a blog post. AARP’s Reinhard and Houser wrote:

“While being fully vaccinated without a booster still provides protection against severe illness and death, it is no longer adequate for nursing home residents. A booster is necessary to remain protected.”

Studies show that boosters will extend the vaccine’s effectiveness. COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents with a booster were more than 10 times lower than cases among unvaccinated residents.