More than 700 state-employed caregivers continue to refuse COVID-19 vaccine

By: - March 12, 2021 2:41 pm

Iowa Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia is vaccinated against the coronavirus during a March 3, 2021, press conference at Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

More than 700 public employees who help care for Iowans in state-run facilities are still refusing the coronavirus vaccine.

According to the latest data from the Iowa Department of Human Services, of the 660 employees at western Iowa’s Glenwood Resource Center for profoundly disabled individuals, 323 — or 49% of the home’s workforce — have refused the vaccine.

Of the 323 Glenwood employees who have refused the vaccine, 256 are considered direct-care or clinical workers.

At the Boys State Training School in Eldora, 76 workers — or 42% of the facility’s 182 employees — have declined the vaccine. Of the 76 workers who have refused the vaccine, 62 are are considered direct-care or clinical workers.

The two facilities are among the six managed by DHS. Department spokesman Matt Highland said the agency is not requiring its workers to get the vaccine, but is “strongly encouraging” everyone employed in the six care facilities to get vaccinated.

“We know we have work to do to increase uptake and we continue having conversations with our team members to answer questions and instill confidence” in the vaccine, Highland said. “This was part of the rationale for Director (Kelly) Garcia receiving her vaccination publicly. We also hold regular town halls at our facilities, where we stress the importance of getting the vaccine and answer questions for our team members.”

Jane Hudson of the advocacy organization Disability Rights Iowa said it is her agency’s constituents who reside in such facilities. She said she’s “shocked” the state isn’t requiring employees of those facilities to be vaccinated.

“To me, basically, as they say in England, ‘No jab, no job,’ ” Hudson said. “I know the state is trying to educate people and it’s increasing, it’s getting better, but to have direct care workers in congregate facilities who aren’t getting vaccinated puts people at risk.”

Hudson said the state needs to figure out “how to incentivize people to get vaccinated, or to say, ‘You can’t come into work until you get vaccinated.’ I mean, schools do this. Kids can’t enter kindergarten without certain vaccinations, unless there is that religious exemption.”

The latest data from DHS also points to an outbreak at the agency’s Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders. Of the facility’s 127 patients, 82 were positive for COVID-19 at some point during the 90 days prior to March 5 — but only one, possibly two, patients had been offered a vaccine as of March 5.

Highland confirmed the numbers and said the reason so few patients in the unit have been offered the vaccine, despite the recent spread of the virus, is their inability to meet the current eligibility requirements.

The unit, which houses convicted sex offenders deemed likely to re-offend, has 137 staff members, 49 of whom had COVID-19 in the 90 days prior to March 5. Of those 137 workers, 38 have declined the vaccine.

Here’s a more detailed look at the infection rates and the vaccination-refusal rates in each of the DHS-run facilities as of March 5, when DHS last updated its data:

  • Cherokee Mental Health Institute: The facility has 175 staff members, 28 of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days, and 66 of whom have declined the vaccine.
  • Independence Mental Health Institute: The facility has 199 staff members. Of those, 20 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days, and 62 have declined the vaccine.
  • Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders: The facility has 137 staff members, 49 of whom have contracted COVID-19 in the past 90 days, and 38 of whom have declined the vaccine. (According to DHS, 82 of the facility’s 127 patients have had COVID-19 at some point in the past 90 days.)
  • Glenwood Resource Center: The facility for profoundly disabled Iowans has 660 employees. Of those, 17 have contracted COVID-19 in the past 90 days and 323 have declined the vaccine.
  • Woodward Resource Center: This facility for disabled Iowans has 515 employees, none of whom have contracted COVID-19 in the past 90 days. Of the 515 workers, 157 have declined the vaccine.
  • The Boys State Training School in Eldora: The school and residential facility for troubled youth has 182 employees. Of those, 23 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days, and 76 have declined the vaccine.

Katie Akin contributed to this report.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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