LANCASTER, Wis. — A Grant County nursing facility is currently experiencing a “crisis” staffing situation as the facility grapples with staff shortages, burnout and resistance to impending vaccination requirements.

Carol Schwartz, administrator of Orchard Manor, a Grant County-owned nursing facility in Lancaster, Wis., asked county leaders on Wednesday to approve temporary pay increases to help slow the bleed.

“The numbers are getting larger,” she said.

If the situation goes unresolved, Orchard Manor will be unable to accept further patient admissions.

Thirty certified nursing assistant positions are unfilled at the facility along with additional nurse and housekeeping positions. Employees have been working additional shifts to maintain minimum staffing levels, which is causing fatigue and burnout, “resulting in poor morale and eventual resignation,” according to a proclamation provided to county leaders.

Fifteen staff members left Orchard Manor in August and September. Most found employment at competitor health care facilities or local manufacturers, Schwartz said.

“CNAs can find Monday- through-Friday jobs — no weekends — that pay more than they are paid here,” she said.

The Grant County Board of Supervisors authorized additional compensation for the extra hours staff work.

The county will provide all nursing staff with a bonus of $25 to $75 each time they work over their scheduled shifts. Meanwhile, employees who ordinarily are not eligible for “time-and-a-half” overtime pay, may now receive payment for additional hours worked. Orchard Manor offered similar benefits in 2020 when it faced a staffing shortage.

Also contributing to staff departures, Schwartz said, is a directive from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that will require all staff at nursing homes to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of a facility’s continued receipt of Medicare and Medicaid payments, a source of revenue on which most nursing homes depend.

The mandate will affect about 15,000 facilities nationwide.

Nursing home residents are among the nation’s most vaccinated population — nearly 90% at Orchard Manor — but staff have been slower to obtain shots. Just 72% of Orchard Manor staff have received a vaccine.

Schwartz said the number of unvaccinated staff members has decreased from 38 to 27. Some have gotten vaccinated, she said, while others have left.

Although nursing home residents comprise a tiny proportion of the U.S. population, they have borne the brunt of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths.

During the first year of the pandemic before vaccines were available, the virus spread easily among residents, who are among the most vulnerable.

Viral outbreaks were commonly sparked by infected staff members who unknowingly exposed residents.

Supervisor Gary Ranum suggested that the county health department advertise statistics to vaccine-hesitant people that compares the side effects of COVID-19 with vaccination.

Leading medical authorities agree that the potential damage resulting from coronavirus infection dwarfs the risks of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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