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Nation & World

Nursing Homes Offer Financial Incentives To Encourage Staff To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There are millions of people waiting eagerly, perhaps impatiently, for the chance to be vaccinated. But among those who have already been offered the shot, one group stands out for taking a pass. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Along with doctors and nurses, another high-priority group are those in long-term care facilities. Many report more than 90% of their residents are being vaccinated. But it's a very different story with the workers at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. A recent survey of providers found nearly half say, so far, only 30- to 60% of their staff have received a first dose.

KATIE SMITH SLOAN: It was disappointing to actually, you know, sort of see that in black and white.

AUBREY: That's Katie Smith Sloan, president of LeadingAge, a trade group that represents thousands of nonprofit providers.

SMITH SLOAN: Obviously, we hope that the numbers, the percentages, increase of staff who avail themselves of this vaccine. And my hope is this wait-and-see will turn into wait-and-do (laughter).

AUBREY: There are many reasons for hesitancy. Nancy Zappolo is a registered nurse and vice president at BaneCare Management, which operates long-term care facilities in Massachusetts. She says, so far, about 40% of employees have opted for the vaccine.

NANCY ZAPPOLO: Most of our employees are female and many are of childbearing age. So understandably, they voiced some concerns about the potential impact of the vaccine on pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes.

AUBREY: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says pregnant individuals should make their own decisions about the vaccine in conjunction with their health care providers.

ZAPPOLO: Our job is to listen to their concerns, provide the information that we have available. And then, we need to allow them to make their own decisions.

AUBREY: Zappolo says they've tried to create enthusiasm for the vaccine. One center celebrates with special Orange Crush drinks and stickers that say crush COVID.

ZAPPOLO: One center is displaying a large poster board for staff to post a note with the reason they chose to get vaccinated, such as, so I can see my daughter again, so I can hug my parents.

AUBREY: Around the country, some facilities offer financial incentives, such as a gift card or paid time off. Sunrise Senior Living says it aims to create a celebratory atmosphere, with cheering squads in vaccine observation areas and music with playlists that include Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." All of this may help nudge people to roll up their sleeves. Yet registered nurse Crystal Habersham, who works at the Well-Spring Retirement Community in Greensboro, N.C., says it may not be enough.

CRYSTAL HABERSHAM: If you look at the makeup of the individuals that work here, there's a large minority population. And based on the conversations that I've had, there's a long history of mistrust.

AUBREY: A recent national poll found about 40% of African Americans said they would get the vaccine when it's available. Crystal Habersham, who has been vaccinated, says she wants to lead by example.

HABERSHAM: I think by me practicing what I preach and then, too, the benefits of taking the vaccine outweigh the risk of not taking the vaccine.

AUBREY: That's the message she shares. And she points out that communities that seem most hesitant are often the communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Recently, Habersham says she talked to her mom about the vaccine, sharing facts about safety.

HABERSHAM: You know what her response to me was? She said, if President Obama or Kamala Harris can get it, I'm going to get it.

AUBREY: And they did get it. Habersham says this speaks to the power of trusted figures.

HABERSHAM: You can show people all the facts and stuff you want. That can reach the mind. But you got to get to people's heart (laughter).

AUBREY: And she's optimistic more of her co-workers will ultimately opt for the vaccine.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF AEROC'S "BLUE EYED BITTER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.