Eight major senior-living communities in and near Lancaster County announced Tuesday they will require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless the employee has a medical or religious exemption.
In a joint statement, the communities – which collectively employ 4,490 people – said the requirement reflects their desire to keep residents, employees and their families as safe as possible.
Some 29.5% of that aggregate workforce, or 1,325 people, are not vaccinated, according to figures compiled by Willow Valley Communities, which issued the joint statement. Willow Valley Communities is the county’s biggest senior-living provider.
Also signing on were Brethren Village, Garden Spot Village, Landis Communities, Luthercare, Mennonite Home Communities and Moravian Manor Communities, plus Tel Hai Retirement Community in Chester County.
Before imposing the mandate, all of the senior-living communities spent months "strongly encouraging" their employees to get vaccinated voluntarily, offering hours of education about the vaccine's safety and merits to overcome hesitancy among some employees to get the shots.
The communities called the three vaccines “a safe and effective way” to stop the spread of the virus, including the highly contagious delta variant, noting that the Pfizer vaccine recently earned full authorization by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
The communities’ policy expands a requirement announced by the Biden administration in August, but not yet implemented, that all employees working in skilled care/health care must be vaccinated for the facilities to receive Medicare and Medicaid admissions and reimbursements.
They also noted that all eight had formed their policies independently before last week’s announcement by Biden that workers at businesses with 100 or more employees must be vaccinated or get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week.
The decision to jointly announce their same conclusions – the first such step by any industry cluster in the county – grew out of informal conversations that leaders from different senior-living communities were having with each other about the pandemic.
Seniors are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 of any age group. They also are the most likely to be vaccinated, with 94% of Lancaster County residents ages 65 and up vaccinated, according to government statistics.
Notably absent from the list of signatories, although supportive of the group effort, is Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, the county’s second-largest senior-living provider.
Masonic Villages CEO William Kingsbury explained that its local senior-living community’s leadership took part in the conversations with other such communities here and is enacting the same mandate here and at its four other campuses in the state.
But it chose not to sign onto the local group announcement “to avoid any feeling among our employees that our system-wide decision was based on factors particular to Lancaster County, such as positivity rates,” Kingsbury said. Some 32% (or about 538) of its 1,680 employees in Elizabethtown are not vaccinated.
Among the eight senior-living communities that participated in the joint announcement, the vaccine-implementation plan and vaccination deadlines vary, the group statement said.
Luthercare, for instance, had announced a vaccine mandate Aug. 10. Seeing the delta variant’s spread, wanting to do everything it could to keep people safe and knowing FDA approval of a vaccine was imminent, “we didn’t want to wait,” said spokeswoman Amy Kenn. Luthercare has 427 employees.