BOSTON (WWLP) – The Baker-Polito Administration announced staff in Massachusetts skilled nursing facilities will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to a news release sent to 22News from the state’s Health and Human Services office, long-term care staff, and contracted employees are mandated to have their first dose by September 1, and be fully vaccinated by October 1, in an effort to stop the spread of the virus and protect older residents.

In Massachusetts, there are 378 skilled nursing facilities, as well as the two Soldiers’ Homes in Holyoke and Chelsea. Less than 75% of staff are fully vaccinated at 155 facilities as of August 2.

22News spoke with members of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition, and they said they are hopeful a vaccine mandate will stop the spread of the virus and protect the home’s older and more vulnerable residents.

“We’ve seen too many tragic outcomes at the Soldier’s Home,” said John Paradis, veteran, and member of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Coalition. “The family members expect better. I think the right thing to do, certainly for all of the healthcare professionals at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, and both state veteran homes is to receive the covid vaccine.”

Long Term Care Staff Vaccine Mandate:

Skilled Nursing Facilities (Level I-III), as well as the two Soldiers’ Homes (collectively “LTC providers”), will be required to ensure all personnel are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. A Public Health Order will be issued for non-state operated skilled nursing facilities and emergency regulations will be filed for the two state-operated soldiers’ homes. 

Personnel includes all individuals employed directly or by contract by the LTC provider. All unvaccinated personnel is to receive the first dose of a two-dose series by September 1, 2021; and be fully vaccinated by October 10, 2021. To ensure compliance, beginning October 10, 2021, the Department of Public Health (DPH) will enforce this mandate for provider-operated Skilled Nursing Homes.

This is being met with opposition. The Massachusetts Nurses Association issued a statement that reads:

Our position has been that we have encouraged our members to get the vaccine, and we believe the vast majority have already done so. We do not support mandating a vaccine that is still under emergency use authority. Appropriately, medical and religious exemptions must be included.

We will be communicating with those facilities where we have members to evaluate the specifics of each policy to ensure the process is safe and respects our members’ rights and health needs. The elected nurses and healthcare professionals at individual hospitals and other facilities will be reviewing the proposed requirements with their members and deciding how to proceed.

We also believe it is essential to look at the demographic data of early adoption of the vaccine and determine how best to reach individuals and communities that may be reticent. We believe it is important to be more focused on the goal than a particular strategy – particularly if it diminishes rather than enhances the goal at this time.

Massachusetts Nurses Association

The requirement will provide exemptions for those with medical restrictions or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving vaccination.

The state has provided over $260 million in state funding, staffing supports, and providing over 2.8 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE), on top of $180 million in federal funding to support nursing facility residents and staff.

To help stop the spread of COVID-19, there has been an increase in infection control surveys, compliance audits, and implementing visitation policy.