More than a third of workers at state-run youth home still refuse vaccine

By: - September 29, 2021 3:53 pm

The Boys State Training School in Eldora is run by the Iowa Department of Human Services. (Photo by Perry Beeman)

As public officials continue to encourage Iowans to be vaccinated against COVID-19, 41% of the workers at the state-run Boys’ State Training School in Eldora still refuse the vaccine.

The most recently released data from the Iowa Department of Human Services shows that as of Sept. 24, a total of 105 of the 179 state employees at the Eldora school and residential facility for troubled youth have been fully vaccinated.

That’s a modest, but notable, gain from four months ago, when 82 of the facility’s workers had been fully vaccinated.

Six of the home’s 52 youth, and 20 of the home’s 179 workers, have had COVID-19 at some point in the past 90 days, according to state data.

The Eldora home is run by the Iowa Department of Human Services, which operates a total of six residential facilities in Iowa.

Another of the six is the Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders, which employs 139 individuals. About 32% of the unit’s workers have yet to be fully vaccinated.

As of last week, 53 of the facility’s 139 workers, along with 84 of the unit’s 131 patient clients, had been diagnosed with COVID-19 at some point in the past 90 days.

According to DHS, of the 53 employees in the Civil Commitment Unit to have been recently diagnosed with COVID-19, 46 are direct-care workers which could help explain the high rate of infection among the patient clients in the unit.

Some of the fluctuations in the care-facility vaccine numbers can be explained by staff turnover, with newly hired workers refusing the vaccine that their predecessors had accepted. Also, some workers may 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 have consistently been the Glenwood Resource Center for the profoundly disabled, and the Boys State Training School.

Glenwood’s vaccine-refusal rate is 38%, down from 44% reported in early May, and the Eldora school’s is 41%, which is a decrease from 45% reported in early May.

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 225 Glenwood employees who have yet to be fully vaccinated, 170 are considered either direct-care or clinical workers. Seven of the home’s 33 administrative workers have also refused the vaccine.

During the past 90 days, 11 direct-care or clinical workers at Glenwood have had COVID-19, along with two administrators and three of the residents.

The six DHS-run facilities employ a total of 1,806 people, 546 of whom have yet to be fully vaccinated.

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.

To date, three residents of the six DHS-run facilities have died of COVID-19. State officials are not saying when the individuals died or at which facility they resided.

Here’s a more detailed look at the infection rates and the vaccination-refusal rates in each of the DHS-run facilities as of Sept. 24, when DHS last updated its data:

  • Cherokee Mental Health Institute: The facility has about 175 employees, three of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days. About 73% of the workers are fully vaccinated.
  • Independence Mental Health Institute: The facility has about 208 employees, two of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days. About 85% of the workers are fully vaccinated.
  • Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders: The facility has about 139 employees, 53 of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days. Of the 53 diagnosed workers, 46 are direct-care workers. About 68% of the unit’s workers are now fully vaccinated. The data also shows that in the past 90 days, 84 of the unit’s 131 patient clients have had COVID-19. (In early May, 82 of the facility’s 129 clients were reported to have had COVID-19 at some point in the previous 90 days.)
  • Glenwood Resource Center: This facility for the profoundly disabled has about 595 employees, 14 of whom have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days. About 62% of the workers are fully vaccinated.
  • Woodward Resource Center: This facility for disabled Iowans has about 510 employees, 11 of whom have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days. About 76% of the workers are fully vaccinated.
  • The Boys State Training School in Eldora: The school and residential facility for troubled youth has 179 employees. Of those, 20 have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days. About 59% of the workers are fully vaccinated.

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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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