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When Georgetown Home Care (GHC) mandated its workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in early August, it got an immediate reply from one worker.
“I quit,” the worker said.
While John Bradshaw, the company’s CEO, still believed it was the right thing to do, he began preparing for an exodus of caregivers.
“Two minutes after we sent an email to all of our employees, I got that email back,” Bradshaw told Home Health Care News. “I thought, ‘Oh my God. I’ve blown up our workforce.’ I started to wonder if I was going to get 300 of these emails. I thought I may have made an enormous mistake.”
A month and a half later, on Sept. 30 – the day the company mandated its workers be vaccinated by – GHC had achieved a 100% vaccination rate. Ultimately, only that one worker quit.
Based in Washington, D.C, GHC is a home care agency that provides personal care, respite care, senior companionship services and senior transportation services to the D.C. metro area as well as Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Northern Virginia.
The agency has nearly 500 employees on its books, and besides one employee with a religious exemption, every one of them has been vaccinated. That has brought great relief to Bradshaw and the rest of the company, though it was not something he saw coming on the first day that email was sent out.
“There were definitely some hugs and some bonuses handed out,” Brashaw said. “There were people who were working really long hours on this, and it was a very triumphant moment at our office when we said, ‘Okay. We’re there. We’ve hit it.’ And it was down to the wire, no doubt.”
There’s no doubt that vaccine efficacy is an antidote to chaos for both agencies and the populations they serve. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) detailed the positive effect that COVID-19 vaccinations have had on the senior population.
Specifically, the report suggested that 265,000 COVID-19 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations and 39,000 deaths had been avoided among Medicare beneficiaries from just January to May of 2021.
As of now, GHC is the only agency that Bradshaw is aware of that is fully vaccinated in the areas it serves. While Washington, D.C., announced a mandate for home care workers shortly after GHC had implemented its own, neither Maryland nor Virginia have followed suit.
Newsweek reported this week that a COVID-19-infected couple had kicked out an unvaccinated caregiver from their home. That’s the worry for other agencies around the country, and also why – albeit still on the staff – the GHC caregiver that has received a religious exemption will not be given new cases unless a patient for some reason requests an unvaccinated worker.
But it’s also why the agency has a major advantage going forward. It can tell all of its partners and patients with confidence that they will not be exposed to any unvaccinated individuals while working with them.
“We’re already seeing it as a huge advantage,” Bradshaw said. “Our referrals have picked up, especially at hospitals. … But we’re also hearing from clients calling in saying, ‘I need help for my mom, and my first question is, is your workforce vaccinated?’ When we say we are, they’ve told us we’re the only company that has been able to guarantee that we can take care of their loved one with only vaccinated workers.”
Bradshaw said that constant communication with staff and allowing them to communicate with each other was huge for encouragement. Each office worker could also tell the unvaccinated caregivers that they – and a lot of caregiver peers – had been vaccinated for months with no side effects.
The company-wide mandate also encouraged hesitant workers, even more than the D.C.-based mandate did.
“We had a whole bunch of people who had told us in the past they would never get the vaccine,” Bradshaw said. “And they were vaccinated within a week of us issuing the mandate, which was really shocking.”
Bradshaw himself decided not to be a direct part of the effort. He knew his tone may be less encouraging, and that he may come off as less empathetic to the workers who were hesitant. Instead, he let people take the charge that could demonstrate those qualities, especially the ones that may have been hesitant at first themselves.
When it came down to the end, there were only a few caregivers between GHC and its goal of hitting 100%. The remaining workers saw themselves as outliers and eventually decided to become a part of hitting the goal and not a roadblock.
“That was one of the things that was really effective, telling them that they were one of the only people that hadn’t done it,” Bradshaw said.
As for the advantage that has come with being a fully vaccinated agency, no one knows how long it will last. In fact, just hours after HHCN spoke with Bradshaw, Royal Care – another home care provider based in New York – reached out to say that it, too, had reached the 100%-vaccinated mark.
“We’re looking at a huge advantage right now, and it may last weeks or months, I don’t know,” Bradshaw said. “Honestly, for the betterment of society, I hope it’s not very long. But purely from a business standpoint, it’s definitely a strategic advantage.”
With vaccinating its own workforce in the rearview, GHC can now focus on the care it’s providing, and also on hiring new, fully vaccinated caregivers.
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