Is it time for the homecare industry to mandate vaccinations?

I recently had a simple request from an elderly patient’s wife after her husband had a short stay in a rehabilitation facility. “I want the home health aide that comes to my house to be vaccinated,” she requested. Prior to my patient’s discharge from the sub-acute facility, the social worker sending out the referrals to the home care agencies was made aware of this request. After the agency’s nurse came over to my patient’s home to evaluate him, the evaluating nurse declared “We simply do not have vaccinated aides.” The family and I then asked that the case be sent to one of the largest home care agencies in New York City with the hopes of getting a vaccinated aide.

Again, before the nurse’s home assessment, we asked for a vaccinated aide. We were told the onboarding team would be sent a note to be made aware of our preference. However, we faced the same plight where the agency could not identify a “vaccinated aide” because of HIPPA laws. Surely, the patient has a right to ask a home care agency if the individual coming to their home during a pandemic is vaccinated? After all, there was a recent case in New Jersey where an aide with Covid-19 spread the virus to her 80-year-old patient who later died and also infected four other individuals living in the home. I reached out to the New York Department of Health for guidance and was told in New York, there is no mandate for home care workers to be vaccinated, but the patient maintains their right to ask if the aide is vaccinated. With that information, I asked for the family to get permission to interview the home health aide to see if they would be a good match for the family. We were told they would get back to us.

Finally, I spoke to the Compliance Department and Director at the home care agency. I was told the home care staff is not tested on a daily basis prior to starting their workday and that aides are only tested if they show symptoms of COVID-19. Moreover, I was told personal protective equipment (PPE) is only issued if the patient is suspected of having COVID-19. We ended up discussing the cost of testing and PPE.

I voiced my concern about resources in institutions not being put towards the frontline patients and workers. I also asked if there have been cases where a patient had gotten COVID-19 from a home care employee. I was told that is propriety information. Clearly, there is something wrong here. It is in the public’s interest to know if a vulnerable individual dies because a home care worker infected them or vice versa. I respect individual’s rights not to choose to be vaccinated, but I also believe the aides have a right to PPE that will protect them. Vulnerable people turning to home care agencies should have the right to receive safe care in their homes.

Instead of waiting for New York Department of Health regulations that will “force” home care agencies to protect their patient. I ask the leadership of the home care agencies to reflect for one minute as to why they went into healthcare. Most of you will say “to help people.” Now look at the home care staff you are sending to the patient homes without proper PPE, look at the vulnerable patients you are treating in the community, and reflect. Are you helping people, or are you placing people’s lives at risk? I am encouraging all home care agency’s management to do the right thing and encourage your staff to get vaccinated or get tested on a weekly basis with the availability of proper PPE. A gown and face shield should be a standard during a pandemic, especially if the aids are not vaccinated. After all, this is healthcare, and if there are no patients or employees left, how will you survive?

This article originally appeared here.

About the Author:  Jangir Sultan, OTR/L, MS AT, LNHA, is the founder and CEO of Patient Advocates of NY. Born in Brooklyn, NY, and raised in England, Jangir’s father sent him to live with his grandparents in the Himalayas at the age of 10 when he sought more information about his heritage. Once there, he took pride in learning about his cultural heritage but also took a role in helping to care for his grandparents. With this experience, his passion was ignited, and he returned to the United States, determined to pursue a career related to eldercare. He has worked in various healthcare settings and roles such as OT Manager, Regional Director of Rehabilitation, and Director of Specialty Programs. One theme that has remained consistent is his focus on providing his clients with the best care possible. Hence, he created Patient Advocates of New York with the mission of changing healthcare from what it is to what it should be: prioritizing the client and providing him/her with the highest quality care.