The Baker administration announced Wednesday that all staff in long-term care facilities, including skilled nursing facilities and the state's two Soldiers' Homes, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 10.
The mandate marked Gov. Charlie Baker's first order to require vaccination in any private or public workforce.
According to the state's press release, as of Aug. 2, about half of the 378 skilled nursing facilities in Massachusetts had less than 75% of their staffers fully vaccinated.
"Today’s actions reinforce the state’s commitment to ensuring the safety and care for these residents, some of our most vulnerable residents," the administration said in its statement.
Staff includes everyone employed by the provider, either directly or contracted.
There will be exemptions for those with medical restrictions or "sincerely held" religious beliefs that prevent a person from getting vaccinated, the statement said.
Speaking by the State House, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders welcomed the mandate.
"The good news is 75% of our nursing home staff are vaccinated. But it's that last 25% that we're really trying to do everything possible [to get them vaccinated]," she said. "We feel like for this population, these vulnerable residents, that the vaccine mandate is the right way to go. And we have nine, 10 weeks to really work with folks to get us there."
Hebrew SeniorLife, a large operator of nursing homes in the state, had previously announced it would require all its staffers be inoculated by Oct. 1.
“Now that we’ve seen the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines," Lou Woolf, Hebrew SeniorLife president and CEO said in a statement on July 26," we feel it’s our moral obligation to deploy them to their full extent, like we do all other tools at our disposal, to keep our patients, residents, and employees as safe as we possibly can.”
In early July, Peabody-based Legacy Lifecare, which operates facilities in Chelsea, Peabody, Longmeadow, Boston and Wellesley, and Waltham-based Benchmark Senior Living were among the first senior care facilities in the state to institute vaccine requirements for all employees.
The Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents hundreds of facilities across the state, applauded the "first-in-the-nation" vaccine mandate for nursing facility workers.
"While Massachusetts nursing facilities currently have the 6th highest rate of staff COVID-19 vaccination in the country at 75%, the goal is to reach universal vaccination to further protect our residents and staff," Tara Gregorio, the organization's president, said in a written statement.
Gregorio added that vaccine hesitancy among some front-line workers has been a "significant barrier" to increasing staff vaccination rates.
"The Governor’s new state COVID-19 staff vaccination mandate for nursing home staff will save lives, especially since many workers move between jobs frequently or hold two jobs in different health care settings,” Gregorio said.
Steve Brown contributed additional reporting. This story is developing and will be updated.
This article was originally published on August 04, 2021.