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'Our residents are vaccinated and boosted' | New report shows spiking cases of omicron variant in nursing homes nationwide

As communities experience a rise in COVID-19 cases, long-term care facilities are stressing the importance of safety protocols and getting vaccinated.

SAN ANTONIO — The highly contagious omicron variant is making its way through nursing homes and assisted living center across the U.S., prompting facilities to encourage the COVID-19 vaccine more than ever.

“It’s tough, it’s tough on everybody,” said Linda Carrasco, president of operations at Clearday Memory Care America.

Memory Care of Westover Hills is currently home to 64 residents who have some type of cognitive disorder.

Carrasco said there’ve been only a handful of new coronavirus cases at the facility, stressing the vaccine has been effective in serving as the extra shield of protection for those who live and work at the San Antonio center.

“Our residents are vaccinated and boosted. Ninety-four percent of my staff are vaccinated and boosted. The ones that are not, are being tested weekly,” Carrasco said.

Since December, weekly COVID-19 cases nationwide have jumped more than 27,000 for specifically nursing home residents and more than 50,000 for staff, according to a new report by the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living.

Credit: AHCA/NCFAL

“When you look at the impact of the omicron variant, it’s here we go again,” said Kevin Warren, president and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association.

Just over 900 of Texas’ more than 1,200 nursing homes are reported at least one COVID case, which is one hundred more than a year ago.

Warren noted omicron’s less severe effects combined with vaccines is helping in the overall goal of keeping vulnerable residents and staff safe.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday to block the Biden administration from enforcing its vaccine mandate for private businesses with more than 100 employees.

But the court decided to uphold the vaccine mandate for health care workers at companies that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.  

“We’re seeing right now about 76% of the staff across longterm care in Texas are fully vaccinated. You have about 82% of the residents that are vaccinated,” Warren said.

The ongoing challenge of staffing shortages permeates throughout the health care industry including longterm care facilities.

Memory Care of Westover Hills isn’t seeing major impacts on staffing. Carrasco said it’s all hands-on deck, especially during times when direct-care staff are absent.

"We have increased staffing as we’ve needed to meet the needs of the residents and then if we’ve had where somebody needed to stay at home because of a call-in or something like that, the staff here, they’re very much team players.”

Routine safety protocols for visitors, residents and staff are everyday practices at Memory Care of Westover Hills. 

As communities experience a rise in COVID-19 cases, the importance of following CDC-recommended safety protocols and getting vaccinated is vital to protect among the most vulnerable population. 

“We have a no tolerance of not following the protocols. At the end of the day, the loved ones belong to all of us, so we have to provide the best care we can.”