The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced a pair of executive orders requiring employees of long-term care facilities to get a flu shot this year if they want to keep their jobs.
The orders announced Tuesday come as hospitals are bracing for a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and flu season, which state officials say led to roughly 8,000 hospitalizations last season. The orders apply to workers, contractors and volunteers at nursing homes, rest homes, assisted living residences, adult day health programs and dialysis units outside of hospitals.
“Immunization is the most effective method for preventing infection of the flu, and staff at long-term care facilities and other health care providers serving vulnerable populations play an important role in stopping its spread,” the news release states.
Under the orders, workers must get their flu shots by Dec. 31 unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption. The long-term care facilities are required to keep records of the vaccinations and submit a report to DPH by Jan. 15.
The mandate comes more than a month after Gov. Charlie Baker ordered schoolchildren get a flu vaccine, sparking protests from parents who called the move government overreach. Hundreds protested the governor’s flu mandate Monday outside Boston federal court.
The pair of orders was among several changes the Baker administration announced Tuesday, along with new requirements for nursing homes and surveillance testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among residents.
Under the latest guidance, nursing home and rest home workers must get tested for COVID-19 at least once a month. Additional testing is required in facilities with new cases or in “high-positivity areas.” The state says nursing homes and rest homes have been reimbursed for staff surveillance testing since the policy first came out in June.
Assisted living residences are recommended, but not required, to undergo surveillance testing. The Baker administration said it will fund two rounds of testing for all staff at assisted living residences every 30 days when an employee tests positive for COVID-19.
Gov. Charlie Baker, who delivered remarks at the Massachusetts Assisted Living Association annual conference last week, told viewers that continuous testing and contact tracing is crucial to getting infection rates low enough so family visits can continue at long-term care facilities.
“The challenges that COVID creates for anybody who takes care of seniors are profound,” he said at the time. “I think in some ways one of the most insidious elements of the virus is the pressure that it puts on not just people generally, but on some of the rituals that are fundamental to the way we relate to each other as individuals and to the way we relate to each other across generations.”
The Baker administration announced a series of reforms that they say will hold long-term care facilities to higher standards of care and infection control. The changes include requiring homes to eliminate rooms with more than two residents and strengthening criteria for nursing homes’ isolation spaces, among other changes.