Jennifer Wessel, JD, MPH
Senior Policy Analyst and Data Privacy Officer
Thirty-two percent of Arkansas nursing homes report that fewer than half of their healthcare personnel are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). ACHI used the data to develop an Arkansas-specific dashboard displaying information on nursing homes.
Of the 222 Arkansas nursing homes reporting, as of Aug. 1 only 27% had at least 75% of their personnel fully vaccinated. Arkansas nursing homes averaged 61% of their healthcare personnel fully vaccinated, in line with the national average of 60%
Since May of this year, CMS has required nursing homes to report on a weekly basis the total numbers of residents and healthcare personnel who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. Under the interim final rule, CMS also requires nursing homes to educate residents and staff about COVID-19 vaccines and to offer the vaccines when available. Failure to follow the new requirements could result in a civil monetary penalty for a nursing home.
As of Aug. 2, the U.S. reported nearly 187,000 COVID-19 deaths among long-term care facility residents and staff, representing nearly a third of all COVID-19 deaths nationwide. Over the same period in Arkansas, there were 2,035 COVID-19 deaths among long-term care facility residents and staff, representing 34% of all deaths statewide. Long-term care facility deaths as a share of total deaths ranged from 3% in Alaska to 66% in New Hampshire.
CMS has provided access to facility-level vaccination information at data.cms.gov. However, the data are contained in a downloadable spreadsheet and are not currently displayed in graphical form like other data on the site. Other data on the site include the statewide numbers of COVID-19 infections among facility residents and staff and the numbers of COVID-19 deaths among facility residents and staff.
Ten Arkansas nursing homes have reported that more than 50% of their residents infected with COVID-19 have died:
Jamestown Nursing and Rehab, LLC, in Rogers reported seven COVID-19 deaths among staff and 114 among residents, the most reported at a single facility in Arkansas.
Some Arkansas nursing homes have been successful in getting high percentages of their residents and healthcare personnel vaccinated. For example, Colonel Glenn Health and Rehab, LLC, in Little Rock has consistently reported that more than 90% of residents and healthcare personnel are fully vaccinated, with 95% of residents and 96% of healthcare personnel reported as fully vaccinated as of Aug. 1.
In the absence of a vaccine requirement, this type of transparency provides an important tool for families as they seek placement for their loved ones in need of long-term care. It is also an effective tool to target outreach and education efforts to facilities with low vaccine uptake. For families who are struggling with decisions about students returning to in-person school this fall, more transparent information about the level of COVID-19 vaccine uptake among teachers and staff could prove similarly useful.
Although school districts and public universities including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the state’s only academic medical center, are currently prohibited from requiring COVID-19 vaccination for students or employees, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities that are privately owned have the option to do so. Some nursing homes in Arkansas are encouraging vaccination through incentives, but few are requiring vaccination for staff as a condition of employment. Several private hospitals and hospital systems in the state have implemented vaccination requirements, including Mercy Health System, Arkansas Heart Hospital, Washington Regional, NEA Baptist, St. Bernards, CHI St. Vincent, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and Conway Regional Health System.
Vaccination of staff is critical to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and other healthcare settings, as some studies have identified infections among staff as the likely link between community cases and cases in long-term care facilities. Many healthcare facilities have not pursued vaccine requirements, though, due to fear of lawsuits or worries about ongoing staffing shortages. Healthcare facilities have lessening fear on the legal front after the rejection by a federal court in Texas of a lawsuit brought by employees at a Houston hospital, and more recently the Supreme Court’s denial of a request to block Indiana University’s vaccine requirement for students, but recruitment and retention concerns remain, particularly among hospitals in Arkansas that are simultaneously dealing with capacity issues from the delta variant surge.