OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – The Nebraska Veterans Affairs Agency faces questions from a state lawmaker after posting jobs for nurses touting the state not requiring that its employees are vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Ads on a state employment website do note the lack of vaccination requirements for state employees, just after mentioning a $ 5,000 hiring bonus. In a separate mailing ad, the state lists “No Compulsory COVID-19 Vaccinations” as one of the “many great benefits” of its nursing jobs.
State Senator Carol Blood, of Bellevue, said she inquired about the ad after voters with relatives in Nebraska state-run veterans homes carried it to his attention. Blood said she understands the state faces a chronic shortage of nurses, but is concerned that many residents of veterans’ homes are elderly and sick.
“It almost seems like we’ve seen this as an opportunity to pick up people who don’t want to get vaccinated,” said Blood, whose district includes the Eastern Nebraska Veterans’ Home. “I don’t know if this is a very good strategy.”
The lists were released shortly before Nebraska’s largest hospital systems jointly announced that they will require their employees to be vaccinated.
The coalition includes Boys Town, Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals, Bryan Health, Methodist, CHI Health, Midwest Surgical Hospital, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, and Nebraska Medicine. Several have reopened services to deal with an increase in the number of largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.
“I think we are approaching a public health crisis,” said Dr John Trapp, chief medical officer of Bryan Health.
The ads also come less than a year after Nebraska Veterans Affairs Director John Hilgert exposed his own struggles with the virus and begged people to take it seriously. Hilgert boss Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has repeatedly urged residents to be vaccinated, but declined to demand it statewide or require masks, despite calls from some officials in the public health.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the department highlighted virus safety measures that are in place at its four facilities, including mandatory weekly testing for workers who are vaccinated and testing every other day for those who do not. are not.
Masks are also mandatory for staff when working with residents, visitors or other employees. Face shields or eye protection are required if transmission rates in the county are considered “high,” with 100 or more new cases per 100,000 people in a week or 10% positive tests within that time window.
Additionally, unvaccinated staff members are required to self-quarantine if exposed to the virus. All workers should also perform a temperature monitoring and reading each time they enter a facility.
“Serving Veterans and their families in our homes is our mission, and we take their safety and care very seriously,” Department spokesperson Holden Armstrong said.
Blood, a potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate who has focused heavily on veterans issues in the legislature, said she would like to see the state fill nursing positions through other means, such as increasing salaries or possibly offer assistance to health professionals with a student loan. debt.
“I am deeply concerned about the message this gives to the families of our veterans,” she said. “They want to believe their loved ones are in a safe place, and I don’t think they feel that way right now.”
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