Several Maine healthcare systems and hospitals are mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees but staffing shortages in many nursing homes may prevent them from following suit.

The Bangor Daily News reports that more than 40 nursing homes want to require staff to be vaccinated but longstanding shortages make them wary of implementing requirements, according to a survey from the Maine Medical Directors Association.

Maine has largely succeeded in vaccinating the nursing home workforce, with its rate sitting now at 71%. That is well ahead of the national average of 59%.

However, the rates are uneven between nursing homes and the conflict between staffing shortages and vaccine mandates could make it difficult to reach 100%.

Over the past week, Northern Light Health and MaineHealth announced vaccine requirements for employees. The requirement applies to facilities including Eastern Maine Medical Center, Mercy Hospital and Maine Medical Center.

Dr. Jabbar Fazeli, who leads the Maine Medical Directors Association, said the survey of nursing homes’ results indicate a desire to mandate vaccines at facilities.

“Clearly the administrators see this as a way out of the crisis, but are struggling with that decision,” he said.

Nursing home staff shortages have long been a problem in Maine, and low wages make it difficult to fill positions. Nursing assistants made $15.71 hourly in 2020, according to state data, a wage comparable to retail workers.

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