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New York State to nursing home operators: Offer COVID vaccine to staff

Debbie Grosser, 61, a resident at Gurwin Jewish

Debbie Grosser, 61, a resident at Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, gets a COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020. Credit: Gurwin Jewish

Faced with lagging vaccinations for COVID-19 among nursing home staff in New York, the state ordered operators of those facilities to offer the shots to their employees over the next few weeks.

The state rolled out the requirement last week, after Newsday had reported levels of inoculations falling short among nursing home staff when compared to health care workers, despite an early effort to make vaccines available to residents and staff of nursing homes.

About 60% of nursing home employees in the state had received at least one dose of vaccine for COVID-19 as of Sunday, reflecting a slight improvement in recent weeks. By comparison, 81% of the state's health care workers had received at least one shot and 77% were fully vaccinated, state figures show.

On Long Island, 58% of nursing home workers had gotten at least one dose, compared to 82% for hospital workers who have had at least one shot in Nassau and Suffolk.

Executives at Long Island nursing homes have said they've been pushing for vaccinations but have fought an uphill battle.

The new state rules will force nursing homes to offer all consenting, unvaccinated personnel and residents an opportunity to receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine within 14 days of the regulation, issued last Thursday.

Also, nursing homes must offer new employees a vaccine within 14 days of being hired and post signs throughout a facility, including at points of entry and exit reminding personnel and residents that the facility offers vaccination.

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Jeffrey Hammond, public information officer for the state Department of Health, said "numerous nursing homes are letting vaccine doses sit on shelves."

He added that nursing homes that are out of compliance may be fined up to $2,000.

Huntington Hills Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Melville has vaccinated 51% of its 460 employees and continues to offer it to staff, said facility administrator Ken Knutsen.

"Maybe some centers are sitting on the vaccine, although I don't see it. But if the state thinks that's the case, fine, twist some arms," he said. "We aren't. We work with pharmacies to give the vaccine once we have people signed up."

Knutsen said some employees remain fearful of the vaccine.

Stuart B. Almer, president and CEO of Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack, said his facility has vaccinated slightly more than 50% of 700 employees.

"We were far lower than that a month ago, so it's increasing nicely," Almer said, adding that since Gurwin's pharmacy is an approved vaccination site, "it's helped, because our employees know the people administering the vaccine."

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