One-third of employees in three state-run facilities have refused vaccine

By: - November 30, 2021 5:06 pm

At the Boys State Training School in Eldora, 61 of the school’s 181 employees have refused the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Perry Beeman for Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Roughly one-third of the workers at three state-run care facilities are still refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, according to state officials.

Iowa Department of Human Services spokesman Matt Highland has said the agency, which runs the facilities, recognizes that it is “critical our team members at our facilities be vaccinated.”

However, a federal judge’s ruling this week blocked enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for health care workers in 10 states, including Iowa. A separate ruling in Louisiana on Tuesday put the vaccine order on hold nationwide.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has been a vocal opponent of federal efforts to require that health care professionals at Medicare- and Medicaid-backed facilities be vaccinated, and has called such rules an “attack on individual liberties.”

“Medical providers that have been on the frontlines of this pandemic saving lives deserve the freedom and ability to make their own informed health care decisions,” Reynolds said this week, responding to the ruling.

Reynolds said she believes the vaccine is the “best defense” against COVID-19, but added that she firmly believes “in Iowans’ right to make health care decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families.”

The most recently released data from DHS shows that as of Nov. 5, 197 of the 589 state employees at the Glenwood Resource Center for the profoundly disabled remained unvaccinated. In the 90 days leading up to Nov. 5, 28 members of the Glenwood staff had COVID-19 — a significant increase from the 15 of that was reported in early October.

At the Boys State Training School in Eldora, 61 of the school’s 181 employees had declined the vaccine as of Nov. 5. Eighteen of the workers had COVID-19 at some point in the 90 days leading up to Nov. 5. Six of the home’s 51 students had COVID-19 at some point in the past 90 days, according to DHS.

The vaccine refusal rate among workers at the state’s Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders stands at 32%, which could be a factor in the unit’s high rate of infection among offenders. As of Nov. 5, 86 of the unit’s 135 patient-clients, or 64% of all offenders in the unit, had been diagnosed with COVID-19 at some point in the previous 90 days.

The DHS data shows that despite the high infection rate among offenders, the unit has continued to hire individuals who refuse to be vaccinated. For example, in late May, the unit hired two part-time workers who refused the vaccine. In late July, two more workers, both of whom refused the vaccine, were hired. In late August, three additional workers, one of whom refused the vaccine, were hired.

Many of the DHS-facility employees who are refusing the vaccine are health care workers providing direct, hands-on care for individuals, and some are administrators.

For example, of the 197 Glenwood employees who have yet to be fully vaccinated, 149 are considered either direct-care or clinical workers. Two of the home’s 33 administrative workers have also refused the vaccine.

Here’s a more detailed look at the trends in infections and vaccination refusals at each of the six DHS-run facilities as of Nov. 5, when the agency last updated its data:

— Cherokee Mental Health Institute: The facility has about 174 employees, eight of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the 90 days prior to Nov. 5. That’s five more than was reported for the 90 days leading up to Oct. 8. Of the 174 workers, 48 — about 28% of the staff — have declined to be fully vaccinated. That’s a very slight increase in refusals from what was reported in early October.

— Independence Mental Health Institute: The facility has about 205 employees, eight of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days. That’s one more than was reported for the 90 days leading up to Oct. 8. Of the 205 workers, 31 – about 15% of the staff — have declined to be fully vaccinated. That’s the same level of refusals that was reported in early October.

— Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders: The facility has about 140 employees, 44 of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 90 days. That’s the same number of infections that was reported for the 90 days leading up to Oct. 8. Of the 140 workers, 44 – or 32% of the staff – have declined to be fully vaccinated. That’s the same rate of refusal that was reported in early October. The data also shows that in the past 90 days, 86 of the unit’s 135 patient-clients – almost 64% of the total — have contracted COVID-19.

Glenwood Resource Center: This facility for the profoundly disabled has about 589 employees, 28 of whom have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days. That’s a significant increase from early October, when 15 of the workers had contracted COVID-19 in the previous 90 days. Of the 589 employees, 197 – or roughly 33% of the staff – have declined to be fully vaccinated. The percentage of vaccine refusals among the Glenwood staff has dropped since early October when 38% of the workers had declined the vaccine.

— Woodward Resource Center: This facility for disabled Iowans has about 499 employees, 17 of whom have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days. That’s up from the 13 who had contracted COVID-19 in the 90 days leading up to Oct. 8. Of the 499 employees, 115 – or 23% of the staff – have refused the vaccine. That’s a slight decrease from early October, when 24% of the staff had declined the vaccine.

— The Boys State Training School in Eldora: The school and residential facility for troubled youth has about 181 employees. Of those, 18 have had COVID-19 in the past 90 days — three fewer than what was reported for the 90 days leading up to Oct. 8. Of the 181 workers, 61 – or 34% of the staff – have refused the vaccine. That’s a significant drop from early October when 41% of the workers were declining 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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