BLOOMINGTON — When Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday described "a troubling number of (long-term care) facilities that have staff vaccination rates below 25%," data from the Illinois Department of Public Health indicated that a few places in McLean County fit that description.
As the Delta variant of COVID-19 rages across the state, Pritzker chastised long-term care facilities that showed disparities where "staff vaccination rates are dramatically lower than those of your residents."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 133,513 COVID-related deaths among nursing home residents and 1,983 COVID deaths among staffers since the pandemic began.
In McLean County, IDPH data shows three long-term care facilities with staff vaccination rates lower than 25%:
- 22.7% of staffers at Arcadia Care Bloomington are fully vaccinated
- 22.9% of staffers at Luther Oaks in Bloomington are fully vaccinated
- 20% of staffers at Bloomington Rehabilitation and Health Care are fully vaccinated
While the governor on Wednesday made masks mandatory in all long-term care facilities and vaccines mandatory for workers at all state-run congregate or long-term care homes, private entities can still allow staffers to make their own choice about vaccination — at least for now.
Greg Wilson, senior vice president of operations at Peoria-based Petersen Health Care, which operates Bloomington Rehabilitation and Health Care, said it's possible the state could take "broader action" regarding mandatory vaccination once full approval comes from the Food and Drug Administration.
In the meantime, he told The Pantagraph, the company is allowing employees to choose for themselves.
"We are trying strong persuasion first," he said. "We are strongly pro-vaccination and have worked hard since January to get our residents and staff vaccinated."
About 61% of Bloomington Rehab's residents are fully vaccinated, according to IPDH.
Making the shot a requirement for employees "is still on the table being considered," Wilson said.
Luther Oaks Executive Director Douglas Rutter said that, in the early days of vaccination, the organization "moved quickly to secure the opportunity for all residents and team members to have access to the COVID-19 vaccine."
"In January of 2021, Luther Oaks conducted a campus-wide vaccination clinic. That clinic resulted in over 94% of our residents getting vaccinated," Rutter said in a statement. "We are so pleased that such a high percentage of our residents have received the protection of the COVID-19 vaccine."
While the staff percentage sits significantly lower, Rutter said the organization "respect(s) that the decision to receive the vaccine is a private one that each team member and resident must make for themselves."
"We have educated our residents and team members on the vaccine and continue to encourage all residents and team members to receive the vaccine," he said, adding that while the vaccine isn't required, incentives have been offered to employees who do get vaccinated.
A request for comment from Arcadia Care Bloomington was not returned Thursday.
Not every facility is struggling to get staff vaccinated. At Westminster Village in Bloomington, 94% of staff are fully vaccinated, along with 98% of residents.
At the McLean County Nursing Home in Normal, 85% of staff members are fully vaccinated, along with 88% of residents. Administrator Terri Edens declined to comment.
Heritage Operations, which runs two long-term care facilities in the Twin Cities, told the State-Journal Register on Wednesday that it plans to make vaccination mandatory for staff, giving them a deadline of Sept. 6.
At the company's Heritage Health Bloomington, 87% of staffers and 88% of residents are fully vaccinated, and at Heritage Health Normal, 34% of staffers and 92% of residents are fully vaccinated.
Westminster Village administrator Barb Nathan told The Pantagraph she believes an early vaccine mandate for employees helped her organization get its numbers up quickly.
"We made that decision in December — even before we had vaccination dates," she said. "We talked through this — we talked through what we're called to do and people were incredibly supportive."
At The Loft Rehabilitation and Nursing in Normal, IDPH reported 100% of staffers there are fully vaccinated, but Vice President of Business and Development Cory Row said that percentage isn't consistent with what the company has tracked internally.
"We're all shooting for that number, no doubt, but ... I can't say that's where we're at, because it's not," he said.
Staffers are working to determine where the disconnect between the company and IDPH occurred, he said, adding that he wasn't able to provide an estimate of that percentage yet.
OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington is among the facilities tracked by IDPH for vaccination data. Spokeswoman Libby Allison said that's because the hospital has a "transitional care unit" for people who need "a little more therapy or time to heal before returning home."
While 80% of those staffers are listed as fully vaccinated, the number is likely to increase since OSF HealthCare recently made the vaccination required for all of its employees by the end of September.