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Area nursing home staffs among highest vaccinated against COVID-19 in the state
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Area nursing home staffs among highest vaccinated against COVID-19 in the state

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Local county nursing homes have seen high numbers of vaccinated staff when compared to the rest of the state, and administrators of both facilities said it is likely because of the care those workers provide.

“People who work in a nursing home are here, not because of the glamorous job, the high wage; people who work in a nursing home are here because we care for the elderly,” said Sauk County Health Care Center Administrator Jennifer Vosen.

Individuals line up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine at a community clinic held June 8 at Hiawatha Residence Hall in Wisconsin Dells.

The Reedsburg facility was recently recognized by the Sauk County Board of Supervisors when the staff vaccination rate hit 98% in early June, one of only 10 nursing homes in Wisconsin to exceed 75% at that point.

Vosen said there are two staff members who were advised by their doctor not to receive a COVID-19 vaccination due to health concerns. While the CDC does not include those people in its tallies, which would mean the facility has reached the designation of 100% vaccination, Vosen said she doesn’t feel as though they should leave those people out due to possible concern over the virus. Instead, she contends the facility will remain at 98% vaccinated of its 103 staff members.

Data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is submitted by facilities through the CDC National Healthcare Safety Network. According to the database, roughly 58% of all nursing home staff in Wisconsin have been fully vaccinated as of last week.

Columbia Health Care Center Administrator Amy Yamriska said their facility had reached 87% as of June 25. She couldn’t speak to exactly why the 99 staff members who work in the Wyocena building reached that number, but felt it may be due to the desire of workers to avoid causing harm to those who live there.

“I think our staff are very concerned for our residents and so we get the vaccine to protect our residents,” Yamriska said. “I think it’s just our staff being concerned for our residents and wanting to do what’s right for them.”

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According to the CMS database, the Sauk County home is one of only three fully vaccinated facilities reported within the state so far. At 87%, Columbia County is among the eight highest reported facilities in Wisconsin.

Both administrators said each facility arranged educational materials about the COVID-19 vaccine when they began administering vaccines in January. Neither nursing home requires staff vaccination. Graphs from CMS show COVID-19 cases and deaths for both staff and residents begin to steeply decline nationwide in January and remain at their lowest point.

Yamriska said they have had “a great participation rate” as the months have gone on. Those who refuse to receive a vaccine are provided data on the shots and have to sign a form acknowledging their decision. Another factor was the certified nursing assistants under 18 who were only eligible for Pfizer shots in recent months.

Vosen said in Sauk County the first vaccination clinic for staff members saw about 80% participate.

“I think those other people who were hesitant at first saw things went okay, then they jumped on board for February,” Vosen said.

They offered data on the vaccines and decided to make time for employees to ask questions and talk to those already knowledgeable in them to clear up any misunderstandings. Vosen said the best way to ensure others are well-informed is to have the educators well-versed in the material.

“I truly feel that what we did in educating our staff and telling them, ‘It’s going to be okay’ and being right there next to them, rolling up our sleeves, by example helped,” Vosen said.

Part of the motivation for ensuring high vaccination rates circles back to the care employees want to provide for their elderly residents. Vosen said immunity means removing masks and allowing people to interact in the ways that work best for them.

“To be able to take those masks off of my staff who are vaccinated so the residents can see their smiles again; a lot of them if they’re hard of hearing or with dementia, they read lips or like to see facial expressions,” Vosen said. “That’s another reason we really, strongly wanted vaccination here, because it’s the only way any of us are going to start moving forward.”

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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