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Heritage Health To Mandate COVID Vaccines For All Employees

Heritage Operations Group owns 53 senior care facilities in Illinois, including 700 E. Walnut St. in Bloomington.
Emily Bollinger
Heritage Operations Group owns 53 senior care facilities in Illinois, including this one at 700 E. Walnut St. in Bloomington.

One of the area's largest nursing home operators is now requiring all staff get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ben Hart is president and CEO of Bloomington-based Heritage Operations Group and Green Tree Pharmacy in Minonk.

Heritage has about 4,000 employees at 53 senior care facilities in Illinois, including Bloomington, Normal, Lincoln, El Paso and Gibson City.

Hart said about 55% of Heritage's staff is fully vaccinated.

“We certainly wish that would be higher, but that actually tracks pretty well with national averages, not only in long-term care workplace settings but also health care in general,” Hart said.

The state average is about 42% of the population is fully vaccinated, though long-term care facility workers were among the first to get access to the vaccines.

Hart said Heritage decided to mandate the vaccine based on how effective it has been, noting COVID outbreaks at Heritage facilities have dropped about 98% since vaccinations began.

Long-term care facilities have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Heritage Health in Normal had one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the county. More than 130 people at that facility have contracted the coronavirus and 29 have died — but no one has died of COVID-19 since vaccinations began.

Hart said the vaccine mandate is about physical and mental health, adding it's tough on residents every time staff has to restrict visitors after a positive case is discovered.

“We want our residents to be able to hug their families and see them as often as they like,” Hart said. “We don’t want that to be interrupted and we feel that’s important.”

Hart said he believes Heritage has good legal standing to mandate the vaccines.

“Employees still do have a choice in the matter. We simply are saying that if they want to work with the fragile, the elderly who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 that they should indeed be vaccinated for everyone’s safety and well-being,” Hart said.

Heritage workers must be fully vaccinated by Labor Day. Starting June 14, new hires will have to prove they've had at least one COVID vaccine dose.

Hart said about 90% of Heritage's residents have been vaccinated.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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