NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Advocate Wishes More Nursing Home Employees Were Getting Vaccinated

Staffer gets a shot in New York
Yuki Iwamura
A federal program administered nearly 8 million COVID vaccine doses in nursing homes, reaching the majority of residents. But many staff members chose not to get the shot.

An advocate for those living in McLean County nursing homes says the vaccination campaign has been a huge success for residents—but she wishes more employees were taking their shot.

Angie Baker is regional ombudsman for the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging, based in Bloomington. She’s spent the past year advocating for nursing home residents on several issues related to the pandemic. Many have been largely stuck in their rooms.

Residents have largely been amenable to getting vaccinated, Baker said. And that’s dramatically reduced the number of cases in McLean County facilities, where the majority of COVID-related deaths have been traced. There is now only one active COVID outbreak at a McLean County facility, according to state data; at one time there were over a dozen.

But not enough nursing home employees have been vaccinated, she said.

"I realize there's personal choice. But it's so devastating to residents."

“Staff have not been so accepting of getting a vaccination. And I’m not going to try to pretend to understand the ‘why’ of that. But it has a dramatic impact on residents,” Baker said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas. “COVID potentially is coming into the building via employees. And then that causes a shutdown of that building. So you’re not going into the dining room, you’re not leaving your room again. It’s devastating. I realize there’s personal choice. But it’s so devastating to residents.”

It’s a nationwide problem. The federal program responsible for bringing vaccines to the vast majority of nursing homes and similar settings inoculated roughly half of long-term-care workers in the nation, and in some states a much slimmer percentage, as of March 15, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided to the Center for Public Integrity.

In seven states plus the District of Columbia, the program vaccinated less than a third of staff members.

In her role, Baker advocates for nursing home residents on a range of issues. Food is a big one, she said. But during COVID she’s also spent a lot of time making sure residents and families get access to “compassionate care visits,” for a resident whose health has sharply declined or is experiencing a significant change in circumstances.

“We’ve done everything we can to get compassionate care visits, which are allowed, if COVID is present in the building,” Baker said.

The pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many nursing home residents, Baker said.

“There’s not a one that hasn’t experienced a roommate or a friend down the hall that’s gone into, say, a memory care unit because of the decline in their social health (because of) isolation. As well as their own physical and mental health, even if they didn’t require additional care. It’s been extremely hard on residents,” Baker said.

Listen to more of this interview with Baker:

There's no subscription fee to listen or read our stories. Everyone can access this essential public service thanks to community support. Donate now, and help fund your public media.

Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.