Updated: July 31, 2021 11:18 PM
Created: July 31, 2021 10:44 PM
As the delta variant is leading to an increase of COVID-19 cases across the country, employers are weighing whether to require workers to get vaccinated.
A Twin Cities long-term care facility is among the first in Minnesota to require employees to get the shot.
Episcopal Homes in St. Paul has set a Sept. 1 deadline for its unvaccinated current and future employees to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kari Bushnell says her family always takes precautions when visiting her 91-year-old father, Richard Larsen, at the senior living facility.
"We're just asking everybody to be vaccinated in our family or wear a mask all the time," Bushnell said.
So she was happy to learn about Episcopal's new health mandate.
"As a family, we were elated," Bushnell said.
Right now, about 80% of the 550-member staff have already been vaccinated. Steve Mork, Episcopal's chief operating officer, says he hasn't seen any pushback but understands some employees might have concerns.
"People are at a point in their lives where they're having children, or they have a medical condition," Mork said. "So we're cognizant of that and we want to make sure we respect that and work with them."
While Mork says Episcopal was already planning on instituting a vaccine requirement, the delta variant added urgency to the situation. And since the start of the pandemic, there's been concern about seniors in particular as a vulnerable population group.
Out of 612,701 confirmed cases in Minnesota, 3% were recorded in long-term care facilities. But of the state's 7,668 deaths, 59% were among those facilities, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
An Episcopal spokesperson said since March 2020, 73 residents and 129 employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
Mork said administrators and nurses have been meeting with staff about the new rule and that he hopes he doesn't lose any employees over it.
Under federal law, employers can require their workers to get vaccinated, but there are exceptions for people who have a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs.
"If they want to talk to a physician or some other counselor, anything that would help them with the decision-making process, we'll try to connect with that person," he said.
Bushnell, a recovery room nurse for M Health Fairview's Riverside clinic, says she just wants her father, a retired bricklayer who was among the first to be eligible for the vaccine, to be safe.
"We're just hoping that the vaccine does its work and if my dad was exposed to it, either doesn't get sick or if he didn't get sick, he'd be hospitalized and he won't die from it," she said.
Mork says the health of Episcopal's residents and staff comes first.
"That's our mission. That's our goal: to keep them healthy and to keep them living actively as long as possible," he said.
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