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Idaho nursing home operator waiting on federal vaccine requirement details

President Biden announced Wednesday that nursing home staff must be vaccinated. Cascadia Healthcare says they expected this to happen eventually.

BOISE, Idaho — President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that all nursing home staff in the United States must be vaccinated as a condition for those facilities to continue to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Cascadia Healthcare, which owns and operates 18 facilities in Idaho, says Biden's announcement will impact the company, but it didn't catch them off guard.

"I expected something to come down the pipe," said Steve LaForte, Director of Corporate Affairs for Cascadia.

But the details aren't exactly hashed out yet. President Biden's announcement didn't offer any clarification about when nursing home workers must get the shot or how one would go through the process of an exemption.

"Will I have to show my card that I did this, or will my word that I was vaccinated be enough? Just some of those kind of things," said Zendi Meharry, Cascadia's Director of Clinical Operations.

LaForte said Cascadia has been encouraging its employees to get vaccinated, but he understands not everyone will be on board. LaForte specifically mentioned the pushback from some against vaccine requirements within the local hospital systems. 

"I think there is going to be some staff upset about it, absolutely, because I think the numbers tell us that," LaForte said. "Continuing conversations about vaccines and getting the education out to people remains the most important thing."

Idaho nursing home staff are vaccinated at a rate of 59 percent, according to the National Health Care Safety Network.

Meharry said Cascadia's nursing home staff is vaccinated at a rate of 65 percent. However, rates vary greatly from facility to facility within the company. Cascadia's facility with the lowest staff vaccination rate is 25%. Its highest facility staff vaccination rate is 97%.

"We have a very wide range" Meharry said. "Tons of it based on geographic region; tons of it based on age."

Cascadia says safety remains its primary concern.

"Staying consistent to our culture, which is about caring for people," LaForte said. "And when we say that, we don't mean just the residents in the bed or the families. We mean our employees, too."

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