Most COVID-19 vaccination rates above 90% for Vicksburg nursing home employees

Published 3:52 pm Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Vicksburg’s nursing homes are not experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak at this time, but the vaccination rates among staff differ between facilities.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), there are four nursing homes in Vicksburg, three of which have coronavirus vaccination rates for staff members above 75 percent. The fourth reports 15.6 percent of staff as being vaccinated.

The most recent data available was recorded on July 18 and showed that The Bluffs Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center had a resident vaccine rate of 83.7 percent and a staff vaccination rate of 86.3 percent. Shady Lawn Nursing Home reported a vaccination rate of 93.1 percent for residents and 92.4 percent for staff members.

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Vicksburg Convalescent Center reported a vaccination rate of 90.5 percent for residents and the highest staff vaccination rate in the area: 98.1 percent.

Heritage House of Vicksburg Nursing Center reported 89.3 percent of residents were vaccinated for COVID-19, and only 15.6 percent of staff members — the lowest rate for a nursing home in Vicksburg.

A representative for Heritage House declined to comment regarding the low staff vaccination rate at the facility, saying only that the numbers might not be entirely accurate, and that administration is “working to educate staff members about the vaccine.”

According to its website, Heritage House has a number of COVID-19 prevention and mitigation policies in place, including temperature checks upon entry and a questionnaire that must be completed each day by staff members or anyone else who enters the facility.

The COVID-19 vaccine is also offered on-site to any resident or staff member who wishes to receive it.

“CMS believes that vaccinations will help protect those who are most at risk of severe infection or death from COVID-19; therefore, we recommend that all residents and staff receive the vaccine unless contraindicated,” the policy reads. “Fully vaccinated residents can have contact visits if desired as well as eat and have group activities with other fully vaccinated residents.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, Heritage House has reported 39 total coronavirus cases and eight deaths.

Vicksburg Convalescent Center displays comparable resident vaccination percentages to Heritage House (less than a 1-percent difference between the two), but the reported VCC staff vaccination rate is significantly higher.

Amy Brown, Administrator of VCC and COO for Vanguard Healthcare Services, which also owns Shady Lawn Nursing Home, said after seeing the reality of a COVID outbreak, the vaccine was a no-brainer.

“It’s something we’ve been working on for months. We started in December and January trying to see what we could do to make our facilities safer and set ourselves apart from others,” Brown said. “As we watched nursing homes and care facilities across the country being beaten down by COVID, we started discussions with our leadership teams in every building. I found out real quick that they all wanted the same thing: to get it out of our building to safeguard our residents and the staff.

“We started a grassroots effort to go person to person. If they wanted it, we were giving them the vaccine.”

Vanguard Health Services owns four other long-term care facilities in Mississippi, in addition to the two in Vicksburg. Vicksburg Convalescent Center, Brown said, was one of the first teams to get on board with COVID-19 vaccines and even sent nurses to work at the drive-thru site hosted by the Mississippi State Department of Health.

The vaccine is now mandatory for all staff members and new hires at both VCC and Shady Lawn, but even before that policy was enacted in May, Brown said the staff members chose to get vaccinated on their own.

“They all chose to do it on their own. We were sending out so much education, we were giving them the accurate information they need,” she said. “It’s been very traumatic. The one thing that’s been consistent is the bashing of long-term care. You’re expected to control COVID, when no one can control it.”

In Vicksburg, Brown said, the goal was simple for the homes she oversees: each vaccine given was a step closer to normalcy. Early on, Vanguard Health Services worked with local hospitals, CVS and Walgreens to secure much-needed doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In addition to staff and residents, the nursing homes also offer free COVID-19 vaccines to family members and anyone else who reaches out and wants to receive the shot.

After a year and a half of eliminating social interaction with residents, she said, the promise the vaccine held for residents and employees was worth getting the shot.

“We wanted to make a difference and stop the madness that was going on in these homes, to where people would feel safe coming to work and residents would feel safe in this building,” Brown said. “If you’re in long-term care for the reasons you should be, the last thing you want to see is a resident to die.

“We want them to be healthy and have a quality life all the way until their last day. When COVID hit, the things that made them happy, went away,” she said. “I think our company, our people, were tired of that. We wanted to put the residents first and put our peers first.”