Vaccine mandate could trigger ‘mass exodus’ of nursing home workers

"Seventy percent of nursing homes are limiting admissions due to lack of staff," says the VP of a Minnesota care center. Meanwhile, vaccine mandates are likely to trigger further "mass exodus" of workers, warns another industry leader.

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Minnesota long-term care facilities like nursing homes and memory care centers say they’re in an impossible situation.

President Joe Biden unveiled a mandate last month that effectively requires U.S. employers to make their workers receive the coronavirus vaccine or face termination. This is likely to force a significant portion of workers in long-term care facilities out of their jobs. However, the industry can’t afford to lose more staff as it’s already overburdened and unable to provide care for patients amid a labor shortage.

“There is going to be a mass exodus” of workers, warned Natalie Zeleznikar, a nursing home administrator and executive.

Zeleznikar predicted that “there is going to be nobody” taking care of residents if nursing homes are forced to uphold the Biden mandate. Rather than getting the shot, she told a Minnesota Senate committee on Wednesday that “the unvaccinated are going to walk out.”

“They were all there for 18 months keeping everyone’s family safe, holding a hand when [the residents] died because we had people at windows when they couldn’t see their family,” she recalled, referencing Gov. Tim Walz’s now elapsed policy that barred family members from visiting their relatives in nursing homes, even during their final hours of life. Now, these burned-out workers “feel like they’ve been thrown under the bus, betrayed and now they aren’t worth anything.”

“The vaccinated people are going to walk out too,” she added, noting that her staff are already overburdened and aren’t willing to work if manpower is further reduced.

Meanwhile, another health care leader said the industry is already at its breaking point.

“There are currently 23,000 unfilled caregiver positions. That represents about 20% of our workforce,” said Patti Cullen, president of Care Providers of Minnesota, at a sobering press conference on Thursday. “That’s in comparison to the 8,000 vacant positions we had early spring, which means there has been a significant change in the number of vacancies,” she added.

Putting this figure in perspective, Cullen illustrated how over one month, “23,000 unfilled positions means more than one million hours of caregiving that can’t be provided because we don’t have the workers. This workforce shortage is also getting worse each month.”

The result of this shortage: seniors in need of care have no place to go.

“They’re being turned away from being discharged from hospitals … seniors and their families who need care … are not able to get it,” Cullen said. “We can’t admit people if we don’t have the staff to take care of them.”

This problem is systemic and nationwide. “Seventy percent of nursing homes are limiting admissions due to lack of staff,” Erin Hilligan, vice president of operations at Ebenezer Care Center, said during the press conference. Forty-five percent of nursing homes across America report critical concern about similar staffing issues.

In the face of this desperate situation, some Minnesota long-term care providers have taken matters into their own hands. All About Caring Home Care recently told Alpha News exclusively that it won’t be firing unvaccinated staff. This tactic has helped attract applicants.

“We’re starting to get nurses applying because of these hospitals mandating the vaccine, like Fairview and Allina,” a co-owner of the company said.

Another Minnesota company, Carefree Cottages, has taken a similar approach — earning it the ire of KARE 11 news.


Kyle Hooten

Kyle Hooten is Managing Editor of Alpha News. His coverage of Minneapolis has been featured on television shows like Tucker Carlson Tonight and in print media outlets like the Wall Street Journal.