ROCHESTER, N.Y. — New legislation co-sponsored by Rochester Assemblyman Harry Bronson, which would allow for up to two caregivers to be exempt from general nursing home visitation restrictions, has passed the Assembly. 

Bronson says the bill is intended to reunite families who have been separated for far too long from their loved ones in nursing homes. This comes as the state department of health reports that more than 90% of long-term care facilities have now received the COVID-19 vaccine.

But while most residents are vaccinated, that’s not the case for many employees who are choosing to not get the vaccine. 

“There has been a lot of pressure from the administration, from management for all staff members to get vaccinated.”

Spectrum News spoke with a nurse practitioner who works at several Rochester area nursing homes and assisted living facilities. She's been offered the COVID-19 vaccine but refused it. She does not want her identity known for fear that voicing her opinion could jeopardize her job.  

“So I do not feel that is safe at this point," she said.

Nursing and long-term care facilities were at the top of the priority list in New York for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. 

The nurse practitioner says most of her co-workers within these facilities have been choosing to opt-out of the vaccine.

“Most people are very afraid and they are choosing to not get it," she said.

According to the New York State Department of Health, statewide, 72% of long-term residents have received the vaccine. But only 50% of employees have chosen to receive it. These numbers are updated on the website site daily. 

In Monroe County, 83% of residents are vaccinated compared to 54% of staffers.

“In my experience, most people that I talk to feel very uncomfortable, but they do feel pressured and so they’re torn. They don’t feel it’s safe, but they also are worried about their job,” said the nurse practitioner.

The Centers for Disease Control does recommend that all employees of long-term care facilities get the COVID-19 vaccine and it even offers some guidelines to administrators on how to encourage these workers to get the shot.

The CDC has suggestions on how to build vaccine confidence by reminding health care employees that their decision to get vaccinated can protect more than just their own health. 

“They use a variety of tactics, monetary, entering into raffles to win all sorts of big prizes. They give you gift cards, you know, $50 or $100. That’s a lot of money for some people,” the nurse practitioner said.

Spectrum News caught up with some nursing home employees who did get the vaccine. 

Including Certified Nurse’s Assistant Darlene Rumph who talked about why she chose to receive the vaccine.

“Because I had the COVID when it first came out last year and with all the rest of my illness I just decided to take it,” said Rumph.

At one particular facility, the administrator said staff members were given a $75 gift card if they got the vaccine. Incentivizing vaccination efforts is what this employee calls into question. 

“And honestly what to unduly influence people flies in the face of medical ethics. This is not an informed consent situation where you feel pressure from colleagues and perhaps you feel that your job is at risk,” the nurse practitioner said.

There’s fear the incentives will turn to penalize those employees who continue to avoid the needle. 

“There’s even been talked about if you don’t get vaccinated then you will have to be tested weekly and the facility will not cover the cost of testing and that is prohibitive to most of these staff members,” she added.

She recognizes this is not the popular stance currently with the push to get as many people vaccinated as possible.  

“People should always have a choice and if you do the research and you think that this is something that you want to do, you absolutely should get the vaccine. But if you don’t and you have concerns and you want to wait or you’re frightened then you should not be forced into doing something you don’t want to do. That goes against the Hippocratic oath, it goes against medical ethics, human ethics, and employment law,” she said.

There are no mandates for long-term care facility employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.