After three deaths and 974 infections, vaccinations in state facilities remain stalled

By: - October 12, 2021 4:27 pm

The Iowa State Training School for Boys in Eldora, Iowa. (Photo by Perry Beeman for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The number of unvaccinated public employees caring for people in state-run facilities has remained largely unchanged in the past month, with 41% of the workers at the Boys’ State Training School in Eldora still refusing the vaccine.

The most recently released data from the Iowa Department of Human Services shows that as of last Friday, a total of 974 workers and patient-clients at the state’s six DHS-run facilities have been infected with COVID-19 at some point during the pandemic. Three residents have died. Ten workers and eight patient-clients have yet to recover.

The data also shows that a total of 104 of the 177 state employees at the Eldora school and residential facility for troubled youth have been fully vaccinated. That’s one fewer than the 105 reported on Sept. 24, which is most likely the result of staff turnover and some of the new employees not being fully vaccinated.

Over the course of the pandemic, 113 workers and youth at the Eldora facility have tested positive for COVID-19. One worker has yet to recover.

Six of the home’s 52 youth, and 21 of the home’s 177 workers, have had COVID-19 at some point in the past 90 days, according to state data. The numbers suggest that at least one of those employee infections occurred in just the past three weeks.

The Eldora home is run by DHS, which operates a total of six residential facilities in Iowa.

Another of the six is the Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders, which currently employs 138 individuals. About 27% of the unit’s workers have yet to be fully vaccinated.

As of last Friday, 44 of the Civil Commitment Unit’s 138 workers, along with 84 of the unit’s 132 patient-clients, had been diagnosed with COVID-19 at some point in the past 90 days.

According to DHS, of the 44 employees in the Civil Commitment Unit to have been recently diagnosed with COVID-19, 41 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, where the vaccine-refusal rate among employees has held steady at 38%, and the Boys State Training School, which has remained at 41%.

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 226 Glenwood employees who have yet to be fully vaccinated, 153 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, 12 direct-care or clinical workers at Glenwood have had COVID-19, which represents an increase of one from the 11 reported on Sept. 24, along with two administrators. Five residents have had tested positive in the past 90 days, which represents an increase from the three reported on Sept. 24.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 229 Glenwood workers and 121 Glenwood residents have contracted COVID-19.

Although Gov. Kim Reynolds has strongly encouraged all eligible Iowans to get the vaccine, she has also said she will not be requiring 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 trends in infections and vaccination refusals at each of the DHS-run facilities as of Oct. 8, when the state agency last updated its data:

— Cherokee Mental Health Institute: The facility has about 176 employees, three of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days. About 73% of the workers are fully vaccinated. None of these numbers have changed in the past three weeks.

— Independence Mental Health Institute: The facility has about 203 employees, seven whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days. About 85% of the workers are fully vaccinated. Three weeks ago, only two workers had been diagnosed in the previous 90 days.

— Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders: The facility has about 138 employees, 44 of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days, a decrease from the 53 reported three weeks ago. 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 132 patient-clients have had COVID-19 — the same number reported three weeks ago.

— Glenwood Resource Center: This facility for the profoundly disabled has about 594 employees, 15 of whom have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days — one more than was reported three weeks ago. Just under 62% of the workers are fully vaccinated. Currently, there are four Glenwood workers and three Glenwood residents who have yet to recover from COVID-19.

— Woodward Resource Center: This facility for disabled Iowans has about 504 employees, 13 of whom have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days — two more than was reported three weeks ago. Just under 76% of the workers are fully vaccinated. Currently, there is one Woodward worker and five Woodward residents who have yet to recover from COVID-19.

— The Boys State Training School in Eldora: The school and residential facility for troubled youth has 177 employees. Of those, 21 have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days —one more than was reported three weeks ago. Just under 59% of the workers are fully vaccinated.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.

MORE FROM AUTHOR