Atria Senior Living is making the Covid-19 vaccine a requirement for its employees.
The Louisville, Kentucky-based senior living provider announced on Monday its more than 10,000 U.S. workers must get both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by May 1. Atria’s vaccine mandate is unique among large senior living providers in the U.S., many of which have not yet made getting the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for employment.
The move is aimed at helping the provider’s communities eliminate the spread of Covid-19 and more quickly return to normal operations, according to Atria CEO John Moore.
“We didn’t make the decision lightly,” Moore told Senior Housing News. “But the best thing to do for our business is to provide the kind of protection that allows us to help our residents live their best lives.”
Atria is currently ramping up its vaccination efforts, which started shortly before Christmas. The company has scheduled vaccine clinics in roughly two-thirds of its 170 communities in the U.S., and the provider is adding more daily.
Atria started an internal process of communicating the mandate to employees last week. And so far, the response has been largely positive, Moore said.
“Nothing is ever perfect, and we’re going to have a thoughtful and appropriate exception process,” Moore added. “But our intention is that, just like you need a [tuberculosis] test to come to work in senior housing, at Atria, you will need to be vaccinated for Covid-19.”
A significant number of health care workers in the U.S. are declining their Covid-19 shots, at least during the early rollout. This includes in the senior living industry, where some providers have reported lower-than-expected vaccination rates among workers.
Still, while legal experts consider vaccine mandates legally sound, with some exceptions, many providers have so far resisted implementing them.
For instance, the nation’s largest senior living provider, Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) is strongly encouraging — but not requiring — its associates to get the vaccine, a representative for the company told SHN. Another large U.S. provider, Catonsville, Maryland-based Erickson Living, is also stopping short of mandating the vaccine for employees, and is instead relying on education and encouragement to incentivize them.
But Atria is not alone in mandating the vaccine for employees, either. Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper Communities also made getting the Covid-19 vaccine a condition for employment. While CEO Lynne Katzmann believes there may be a small number of Juniper employees who quit or seek exemptions, she also thinks the benefits of a mandate far outweigh the costs.
“While a difficult decision, we believe it is critical to community safety and to finding our ‘engagement equilibrium’ again,” Katzmann wrote on SHN last week. “We also believe it is what residents want.”
Others in the senior housing and care industry have hoped that state and federal governments would play a larger role in allowing those mandates. For example, Sabra Health Care REIT (NASDAQ: SBRA) CEO Rick Matros has wondered whether a federal or state vaccine mandate would take the burden off of employers.
Moore said that he and Atria would welcome a government-led Covid-19 vaccine mandate, and added that there are historical parallels suggesting such a move may help boost acceptance. When the state of Massachusetts required flu vaccines for long-term care workers, participation among Atria’s workers in the state leapt.
“After it was mandated that you had to get a flu vaccine, it was pretty interesting to us that, by the end of the year, … the number of people who didn’t get the vaccine was a number you could count on one hand,” Moore said.