NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – On Feb. 4, 85 healthcare workers and seniors at Dayspring Senior Living were given their second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Employers at many long-term care facilities across Florida have made the vaccine optional for their healthcare workers. But at Dayspring Senior Living, owner Doug Adkins made vaccination for COVID-19 a requirement.
“It appeared to me that we needed to take an immediate position in order to protect the residents. We would have to make a decision about whether to mandate vaccination,” Adkins said.
Adkins said after meeting with each member individually, one of his staff members decided to leave because of his policy on vaccinations.
“That’s not something she wanted to do. And, you know, we left on good terms,” Adkins said. “Everybody is an individual, and I respect greatly the decisions of individuals. I respect their choices and their decisions. And the only thing I asked was you respect my decision and the decision I have to make for everybody.”
On Dec. 16, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined a COVID-19 vaccination requirement by itself does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); a law prohibiting employers from conducting some types of medical examinations.
But some employees may be exempt from mandatory vaccinations based on disability and for religious beliefs that prohibit vaccinations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says while the “federal government does not mandate vaccination,” whether an employer “may require or mandate individuals to be vaccinated is a matter of state or applicable law.”
Employment attorney Archibald Thomas says the bigger question is what happens if an employee refuses to be vaccinated.
“I think the general answer to that question is they can require it as a condition of employment,” said Thomas. “As long as you’re not singling that employee out, in other words, as long as the employer is not violating any of the other laws that might protect that employee, then ultimately, you can terminate that employee.”
As of Feb. 4, 68% of residents and nearly 36% of staff in all of Florida’s nursing homes chose to receive the vaccine at the first vaccine clinic, according to the Florida Department of Emergency Management.
Brian Lee, with Families for Better Care, an advocacy group focused on long term care facilities, says mandates for vaccinations among staff do not fall in line with the position Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has set.
“I think that mandating somebody to stick something in your arm would seem to be a violation of civil rights, privacy, etcetera. And I know for the protection of the residents and their safety. It seems like it would be incumbent upon staff to get the vaccine, but it still should be optional,” said Lee.
Connie Bend is the administrator at River City Rehabilitation. It was one of the first nursing homes in Jacksonville to hold a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.
Bend says the vaccine is not mandatory at River City Rehabilitation, but that staff is encouraged to get vaccinated. Bend said so far the facility has provided three vaccine clinics and that staff members who are vaccinated don’t have to wear a face shield with their mask.