‘How will we ever get through this?:’ Orlando nursing home requires vaccines for workers

President Joe Biden announces vaccine mandate plans for nursing home workers

ORLANDO, Fla. – As nursing homes continue to manage their facilities in the height of the pandemic, a debate over vaccine mandates continues -- this time for nursing home employees.

President Joe Biden said he’s requiring staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or the entire facility could face the risk of funding cuts. The owner of an Orlando assisted living facility said she thinks the mandate is necessary.

“How could you take care of people, especially the elderly, and not be vaccinated? Because when you go out there, you don’t know what you’re bringing back to them,” said Aasbury Manor Assisted Living Owner Diane Anderson.

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Anderson has been running Aasbury Manor Assisted Living in Orlando for nearly 20 years. She said she’s doing everything she can to help keep her residents and employees safe, with strict visitation policies in place, PPE and sanitization strategies and requiring vaccines for her staff. So far, she told News 6, none of her residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I’ve had several people come here looking for work, and I do need staff, but they said they won’t be taking the vaccine and I said ‘I’m sorry, I will not be able to hire you,’” said Anderson.

Mandating vaccines is being debated on a state and even national level. Earlier this week, President Biden announced plans requiring all nursing home staff to be vaccinated or lose federal funding.

“More than 130,000 residents in nursing homes have, sadly, over the period of this virus, passed away. At the same time, vaccination rates among nursing home staff significantly trail the rest of the country,” said Biden during Wednesday’s speech from the White House.

Days later, Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke against that mandate, saying it wouldn’t be sustainable for nursing homes.

“They’re already short-staffed. And there’s a lot of people that feel strongly against being mandated, that they think it should be something that they choose, and they may have reasons why they make different choices,” said DeSantis at a news conference on Thursday.

The Florida Health Care Association, representing more than 500 long-term care facilities in the state, echoes DeSantis’ concerns in a statement that reads, in part:

“We appreciate our state and national leaders’ efforts to keep COVID-19 rates low, and our long-term care centers have been working tirelessly for more than a year and a half with the same goal in mind. However, by the federal government singling out nursing homes with a vaccination requirement that does not apply to health care personnel at other locations and in other health care sectors, we fear that our already critical workforce shortages will worsen ... As our members maintain their commitment to protecting our state’s most vulnerable residents, it’s important they have the support they need to attract and retain long-term care staff.”

Anderson said it’s been tough running her assisted living facility during the pandemic and agrees with having a vaccine mandate.

“If they come here and bring the virus with them, I’ll be out of business because my residents could either die or go to the hospital and my residents are my business. Me protecting them and myself is my priority,” said Anderson. “Right now, we don’t even have hospital beds available for the really sick people. So how is that going to help us? How will we ever get through this, how? I don’t know?”

The details on when the mandate Biden mentioned Wednesday will go into effect have not been announced.

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About the Author:

Crystal Moyer is a multimedia journalist who joined the News 6 team in February 2020. Crystal comes to Central Florida from WKMG’s sister station, WJXT in Jacksonville, where she worked as a traffic anchor and MMJ.