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Many Valley nursing home workers will soon be required to take the COVID-19 vaccine

The decision comes amid new legislative action to pre-empt the adoption of so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports in Ohio. That concept suggests vaccinations may soon be required by businesses or for travel.
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MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS — The coronavirus vaccine will soon be a requirement for employees of one Mahoning Valley long-term care facility operator.

Continuing Healthcare Solutions announced Tuesday its employees are required to get their first COVID-19 shot by June 1.

The decision comes amid new legislative action to pre-empt the adoption of so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports in Ohio, which Ohioans could use to prove they’ve been vaccinated, if required by businesses or to travel.

“For us, this is not right or left,” said Mark Morley, Continuing Healthcare’s vice president of operations. “This is an apolitical statement. We believe this is the right thing for protecting our residents. I appreciate that it is controversial, but we think the safest thing for our residents — and for our staff — is for our staff to get vaccinated.”

The Middleburg Heights-based company operates 31 long-term care facilities in Ohio, including seven locations across the Valley, in Boardman, Austintown, Mineral Ridge, Niles and Lisbon.

Nearly all of its Valley facilities have reported few, if any, coronavirus cases since April 15, when the state began tracking cases at nursing homes. One glaring exception, however, is Continuing Healthcare at the Ridge in Mineral Ridge, which has reported 121 cases among residents and 73 cases among employees, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Its Victoria House Assisted Living facility in Austintown has reported 14 cases among employees since April 15, according to ODH.

While vaccine hesitancy among staff has started to dissipate, only a little more than 40 percent of Continuing Healthcare Solutions staff has gotten the vaccine, Morley said. 

Among residents, the vaccination rate is more than 80 percent, he said.

The company plans to conduct weekly meetings so a clinician can answer questions staff members have about the vaccine.

“What they’re picking up on social media is just not accurate,” Morley said. “And the best way to get that issue resolved is by having a clinical [worker] answer their questions.”

COVID-19 cases have begun surging again nationwide, so doubling down on protections for long-term care facility residents is “even more urgent,” he added.

Morley believes other care providers will follow in the footsteps of Continuing Healthcare Solutions’ decision. 

“There’s going to be a small [number] of people that no matter what we tell them, they’re not going to get it,” he said. “But when we really do have the vast majority of people vaccinated, we’re going to be in a safer environment. And for me, it’s all about: what do we need to do to protect our most vulnerable population? And that population is senior citizens.”

Vaccines for visitors?

Visitors to Concord Care Center of Hartford in Fowler are asked whether they’ve been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, but aren’t required to show proof, said nursing Director Beverley Martin.

The long-term care facility, like several others in the Valley, hasn’t had a single confirmed case of coronavirus among its residents since the pandemic began.

One positive test result Mahoning Matters found last month in federal records from November was confirmed to be a false-positive after further testing, Martin clarified Friday. The facility, however, was still required to report the positive test to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, she said.

Keeping the facility COVID-free was a “team approach,” directors said in a previous interview last month. Employees were dedicated to expanded infection control practices.

“Our staff was really good,” Martin said. “Not only did they follow the protocols we had set for in the buildings but they also followed them outside the buildings.

“We are such a close-knit team. None of us wanted COVID in the building,” she added.

By mid-March, a little more than half of the Concord staff had been vaccinated, as well as more than three-quarters of its residents, Martin said.

“With us being the first group eligible [for the vaccine], I think there was hesitancy among us,” said Holly Corder, the center’s activities director. “As it goes on, more and more staff are going to see it’s safe and there are no effects from it. … We’ll get a higher percentage.”

Martin said the facility has signed up for the state’s vaccine maintenance program, which looks to bring more rounds of the vaccine to Ohio long-term care facilities.

Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced vaccine providers later this month can begin working with employers to offer the vaccine at their workplaces.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to provide the vaccine here in our building with new admissions and new employees,” Martin said.

Verifying your vaccine

A new Ohio statehouse bill would head off any initiatives allowing entities — like businesses or travel providers — to verify whether citizens received the COVID-19 vaccine. The concept of “vaccine passports” is  now being pioneered in New York, according to the Center Square.

State Reps. Al Cutrona of Canfield, R-59th, the bill’s primary sponsor, and cosponsor Mike Loychik of Bazetta, R-63rd, were unavailable to speak with Mahoning Matters about the bill Friday, but appeared on Fox and Friends that morning.

Cutrona, the COO of Northeast Ohio Infectious Disease Associates along Parmalee Avenue in Youngstown, stressed the need for medical privacy and said the state’s pandemic regulations have “gone too far.”

He also claimed technology companies aim to sell clients’ personal data.

“There’s just too much government overreach. … When you have big tech, big government, you’ve got big problems,” Cutrona said.

New York’s “Excelsior Pass” is envisioned as an app that displays a QR code pointing to the user’s vaccination record. Venue-goers may be asked to show the record before attending events, Cutrona said in a news release.

The new Ohio bill would essentially prohibit vaccine passports in Ohio, though its specific workings are still unclear. Cutrona said Thursday a draft of the legislation was not yet ready for release. He said in a release the bill is currently seeking cosponsors. It’s yet to be assigned a bill number.

DeWine, who addressed questions on vaccine passports during a Thursday briefing on the state’s coronavirus response, said the state doesn’t have its own plans to implement a vaccine verification system, but added “businesses can make their own decision” on them. He expects the free market will decide whether to adopt them.

“There are other ways of people showing that they have, in fact, been vaccinated. At this point, it’s too hypothetical for me to even speculate on it,” the governor said.

Loychik, who owns Atlantic Pressure Washing Solutions LLC in Niles, told Fox News vaccine passports “don’t belong in the United States.”

“If you were to introduce this in your business throughout the United States, I think that would diminish your business to the ground,” he said during his Friday interview.

Concord Care Center’s Martin, when asked Friday, said she was unfamiliar with the vaccine passport concept.

Morley, however, said he thinks it’s inevitable.

“I personally believe that’s coming,” Morley said. “I mean, shoot, you’re going to have to show your vaccination status to get on a commercial airline here pretty soon.”