HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- In an announcement Wednesday, President Biden required nursing homes to mandate the COVID vaccine to their staff or lose federal Medicare and Medicaid funding, a requirement some continuing care communities had already implemented in Central Virginia.
"It’s not a politically driven issue it’s to protect elders it’s to protect people’s lives and to keep people out of hospitals," said Chris Henderson, CEO of Pinnacle Living.
The organization operated five different communities with about 1,200 residents and 850 employees.
Henderson said about 80 percent of Pinnacle Living employees were already vaccinated. Those who weren't had until September 13 to get fully vaccinated or lose their jobs.
"This was a hard decision for us," said Henderson. "Unfortunately, we know we’re going to lose some folks. There’s no doubt about that. Not everyone is going to participate in the vaccine program."
Tonya Phillips, a CNA at the Cedarfield senior living community, said she believes the vaccine mandate is a good idea.
"I am hands-on. I help residents with daily activities," said Phillips. "It’s been very hard. I was with most of everyone that had COVID in the pandemic."
Phillips said that meant witnessing some mild cases and some severe ones.
"It was scary. It’s like your lungs fill up with fluid and basically drown," Phillips said.
Susan Dunaway, a Cedarfield Registered Nurse, is also in support of Pinnacle Living's vaccine mandate for employees.
"With our elderly clientele, they’re very vulnerable to, gosh, vulnerable to just getting the flu or cold could be really detrimental to them. And having the vaccine is something to really help our residents and our coworkers that we work with," said Dunaway.
As for President Biden’s mandate, which applied only to Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes, Henderson believed more needed to be done.
"He hasn’t done it for everyone. He’s done it for nursing homes. There are other senior living settings that are just as vulnerable, there are other hospital settings that have as many vulnerabilities to COVID-19 as long-term care nursing facilities. It's a great first step but it’s not enough," Henderson said.
CBS 6 reached out to other nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the region for their reaction to President Biden's mandate.
Consulate Health Care sent the following statement:
"We will be reviewing the regulations from CMS when they become available. In the meantime, we continue to support our ongoing efforts to increase vaccination rates amongst our staff, as we know the vaccine is one of the safest ways to protect against the virus.”