Syringes of the Pfizer vaccine during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Oregon State Fairgrounds on Thursday, Jan. 28. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Vaccination rates among employees are low at many Salem-area long-term care facilities, and industry groups fear a recent state vaccination mandate will worsen staffing shortages. 

About half to three-quarters of staff at long-term care facilities in the Salem area are vaccinated against Covid as of Aug. 8, according to federal data.

Those facilities are reporting staff vaccination rates ranging from 55% to 78%, according to data from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Two reported worker shortages.

Gov. Kate Brown last week ordered all health care workers get vaccinated against Covid by Oct. 18.

Long term care facilities have been a major source of outbreaks and deaths from Covid in Salem and across Oregon, and older residents with underlying health conditions are especially vulnerable to severe cases of the disease.

Only nursing homes report vaccination data to the federal government. Other long-term care facilities, like assisted living centers, are state-regulated and report vaccination rates to the Oregon Health Authority.

Data released recently by OHA shows Salem-area long-term care facilities have employee vaccination rates as low as 48% with the most recent data being from July 26.

Phil Bentley, CEO of the Oregon Health Care Association, said the facility-specific data released by the Oregon Health Authority shows opportunities for the state to engage proactively with staff to increase vaccination rates to meet the mandate. The association is a trade group for long-term care facilities. 

 But he cautioned that mandating vaccination could further strain staffing levels. 

 “(The Oregon Health Care Association) supports these efforts, and we know that mass vaccination is the only way out of this devastating pandemic. However, as the data shows, there are pockets where the level of vaccine resistance could worsen staff shortages which could impact admissions and even risk closures. This is very concerning. We cannot afford to lose any more capacity in our health care system,” Bentley said in a statement released Aug. 20.  

Staffing shortages at long-term care facilities are contributing to a shortage of hospital beds in the Salem area, Salem Health leaders have said, because patients who can’t be discharged to a skilled nursing facility remain in the hospital. 

Pam Gray, chief operations officer at Bonaventure, said the Salem assisted living facility had a 53% staff vaccination rate. That’s higher than the OHA reported number, which she said was out of date, but still among the lower rates reported in the Salem area. The facility gained attention recently for a video of a recruiter saying the company would hire unvaccinated workers.

However, on Tuesday Gray said all hires must be vaccinated or willing to be vaccinated.  

To boost vaccination rates ahead of the mandate taking effect, she said Bonaventure would have weekly trainings to educate team members the vaccine was safe and effective, daily emails responding to commonly asked vaccine questions, among other measures. 

Jessica Penland, executive director of Farmington Square Salem, attributed the residential care facility's high 83% staff vaccination rate to early education about Covid and vaccines.  

“Our management team made efforts to talk to each staff member individually about any hesitations and made sure they had resources that they needed to help make an informed decision. I also attribute it to our staff's overall desire to keep our residents and each other as safe as possible, and their ability to work together towards that shared goal,” Penland said in an email. 

Avamere Transitional Care at Sunnyside had 76% of their health care workers vaccinated against Covid. It reported a nursing shortage and a shortage of aides, according to federal data.  

Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center reported a 67% vaccination rate among staff.  

Avamere Court at Keizer reported a 55% rate. Salem Transitional Care reported a 66% rate. The Oaks at Sherwood Park had a 78% rate. 

Tierra Rose Care Center reported 69% of its staff vaccinated against Covid. That facility reporting a shortage of aides, according to federal data.  

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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