More than one-third of Iowa’s state-employed caregivers still refusing COVID-19 vaccine

By: - May 13, 2021 12:53 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds this week said vaccinations are one of Iowa’s best tools in turning back the pandemic. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce/ Virginia Mercury)

As state officials continue to encourage Iowans to be vaccinated against COVID-19, more than a third of the workers at state-run care facilities continue to refuse the vaccine.

The most recently released data from the Iowa Department of Human Services shows that as of May 7, a total of 36% of state employees at the six DHS-run care facilities are still refusing the vaccine. That’s the same percentage that was reported in April, and in some of the facilities the number of refusals is actually increasing.

For example, at the Boys State Training School in Eldora, a residential facility for troubled youth, there are 180 employees. As of May 7, a total of 82 of the workers had declined the vaccine, which is two more refusals than were counted on April 16, and six more than were counted in early March.

At the Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders, home to 135 workers, a total of 46 employees had declined the vaccine as of May 7, which is an increase of one from the April 16 count, and an increase of eight from the count in early March.

Some of the increase can be explained by staff turnover, with newly hired workers refusing the vaccine. Also, DHS says some workers have only recently become eligible and weren’t previously offered the vaccine they’re now refusing.

DHS spokesman Matt Highland has said the agency is continuing to work on the issue and that the agency knows “it is critical our team members at our facilities be vaccinated.”

Of the six DHS-run care facilities, the two with the highest vaccine-refusal rates are the Glenwood Resource Center for the profoundly disabled and Eldora’s State Boys Training School for troubled youth. Glenwood’s refusal rate is 44% and the Eldora facility’s refusal rate is 45%.

Possible factors in their low vaccine-acceptance rates: DHS says no vaccines have been delivered to the Eldora school, unlike other DHS-run facilities, and Glenwood no longer has any of the Moderna vaccine, so workers who want the shot must go elsewhere.

Many of those who are refusing the vaccine are health care workers providing direct, hands-on care for individuals, and some are administrators. For example, of the 281 Glenwood employees who have refused the vaccine, 224 are considered either direct-care or clinical workers. Nine of the home’s 34 administrative workers have also refused the vaccine. Those numbers have not changed at all since April 16.

The six DHS-run facilities employ a total of 1,843 people. Of those, 663 employees, or 36%, had refused the vaccine as of May 7, according to DHS. Between March 5 and April 16, the total number of workers in those facilities refusing the vaccine dropped by 8%, from 722 to 664, the DHS data shows.

Although Gov. Kim Reynolds has strongly encouraged all eligible Iowans to get the vaccine, she has also said she will not be requiring state workers in the state-run care facilities to be vaccinated.

At a May 5 press conference, Reynolds said, “I think Iowans … want to return back to normal, but there has to some incentives for getting the vaccine to actually make that happen. But we are in the process of trying to identify what that looks like.”

Here’s a more detailed look at the infection rates and the vaccination-refusal rates in each of the DHS-run facilities as of May 7, when DHS last updated its data:

  • Cherokee Mental Health Institute: The facility has about 175 employees, nine of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days. As of May 7, 51 of the workers have declined the vaccine. That’s four fewer than were counted on April 16.
  • Independence Mental Health Institute: The facility has 204 staff members. None have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days, and 53 have declined the vaccine — one fewer than was counted on April 16.
  • Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders: The facility has 135 staff members, 48 of whom have contracted COVID-19 in the past 90 days. As of May 7, 46 workers had declined the vaccine, which is an increase of one from the April 16 count and an increase of eight from the early March count of 38. (According to DHS, 82 of the facility’s 129 patients have had COVID-19 at some point in the past 90 days.)
  • Glenwood Resource Center: The facility for profoundly disabled Iowans has 639 employees. Of those, three have contracted COVID-19 in the past 90 days. As of May 7, 281 workers have declined the vaccine, the same number that was reported on April 16.
  • Woodward Resource Center: This facility for disabled Iowans has 512 employees, none of whom have contracted COVID-19 in the past 90 days. Of the 512 workers, 150 had declined the vaccine as of May 7, which is one more than was counted on April 16.
  • The Boys State Training School in Eldora: The school and residential facility for troubled youth has 180 employees. Of those, three have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days. As of May 7, 82 of the workers had declined the vaccine, which is two more than were counted on April 16. In early March, DHS reported 76 workers had declined the vaccine.

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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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