Nursing home owner would rather close than fire unvaccinated

AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias

In the town of Rowley, Massachusetts, just north of Boston, Sea View Skilled Nursing and Rehab Services has been in operation for nearly seventy years, caring for the elderly and their families. Its current owner is Steve Comley and the operation has been in his family for generations, dating back to the early 1950s. But all of that may be coming to an end soon. Since the state issued an order saying that all nursing home employees must be vaccinated against COVID by October 10, Comley has been faced with a vexing decision. Because of the pandemic, he was already short on staff, but now one-quarter of his remaining workers have informed him that they do not plan to take the vaccine. Rather than fire anyone, Steve is in the process of simply closing the family business. (CBS Boston)

“I have a very limited staff left, and about 25% of them have decided against the COVID vaccine,” Comley said.

He said shutting down is a better option than forcing his 40 employees to follow the statewide mandate requiring nursing home employees to be vaccinated by October 10. The mandate allows religious and medical exemptions.

“They have a right to make a decision what they put in their body and I have to back them up on it,” Comley said.

In the early days of the pandemic, Comley also refused to require staff and residents to be tested for COVID.

Interviews with the staff revealed what seems to be a fair amount of solidarity. One of the healthcare workers there who is already vaccinated, supported the right of her coworkers to make that choice for themselves. The family members of some of the residents aren’t as happy because now they’ll have to find a new place for them. Comley has already informed the Department of Public Health of his plans to shut down and he’s now working with other nursing homes to find places that have openings to accept his remaining residents.

It’s easy to see how this situation will be controversial no matter where you stand on the whole vax mandate question. On the one hand, seeing government mandates drive people out of business in the private sector is objectionable. Also, when otherwise healthy employees are going to lose their jobs because of a government mandate, we also have a problem.

But at the same time, we have to recognize that this is a nursing home we’re talking about. As noted in the linked article, even at the beginning of the pandemic, Comley’s operation was one of the ones that were refusing to require the testing of residents and workers for COVID. Isn’t that exactly what we’ve been yelling at Andrew Cuomo about ever since the massive number of deaths in New York nursing homes? Those residents are some of the most at-risk patients imaginable given their age and underlying medical conditions.

In May of 2020, the state cited Sea View for failing to meet the COVID testing benchmark. They tested enough residents, but not enough staff members. That would seem to conflict with the CBS report, unless they simply meant the testing wasn’t mandatory, but they were doing it voluntarily. Sea View also failed to submit its results by the original deadline. By June of last year, they were one of 32 long-term care facilities in the state that was still out of compliance and being investigated as to their future viability. But by May of this year, the state was still recording Sea View as having recorded “1-4 deaths” total over the course of the pandemic, so perhaps they figured out a way to keep it under control.

I suppose those are two separate conversations, however. Some are free to argue that the state shouldn’t have put him in the position to make this decision. Others could possibly say that the home should have been shut down long before this for potentially exposing the residents to the virus long before there was a vaccine ready for initial testing. But if they really lost fewer than five people over an entire year, that might be a bit of a harsh judgment.