VA vaccine mandate won't apply to Iowa Veterans Home

Staff at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, where a recent COVID-19 outbreak killed two fully vaccinated residents, are not subject to a new vaccine mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced on July 26 that coronavirus vaccinations are now required for “Title 38 VA health care personnel — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors — who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit VHA facilities or provide direct care to those VA serves.”

The Iowa Veterans Home is a state-run facility, but it receives some federal funding, is certified by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and has residents who use VA health care. At least 900 employees work at the Marshalltown facility, which is Iowa’s largest nursing home. Families and guardians were informed in late June that 70 percent of staff had already been vaccinated for COVID-19. That would leave more than 250 unprotected by any coronavirus vaccine.

Shawn Hippen, a spokesperson for the Des Moines VA, confirmed in a July 28 telephone interview that the mandate applies only to Title 38 federal employees. “We have no control over a state employee,” he explained. Although state-run veterans homes “fall under VA oversight” on nursing homes, the VA doesn’t “own the facility or have any control of that facility.”

Some state veterans homes have a handful of federal employees on staff, Hippen added. He was unsure whether a small number of liaisons or nurses in Marshalltown are Title 38 federal employees. If so, they would fall under the VA’s rules and have eight weeks from July 26 to become fully vaccinated.

Laurel Degelau, the executive assistant for the veteran home’s commandant, routinely answers journalists’ questions. Reached by phone on July 28, she told Bleeding Heartland she would check to see whether any staff are federal employees. Degelau called back a short while later to advise me to contact the governor’s office, where she had been told to direct all media inquiries.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to emails seeking to clarify whether any Iowa Veterans Home staff are Title 38 federal employees.

At least six employees and seven residents of the Marshalltown facility tested positive for COVID-19 in late June or July, according to emails sent to families and guardians of residents. The emails stated that all the residents infected (two of whom later died) had been fully vaccinated, but did not mention the status of the affected staff. The home’s COVID unit has been empty for at least three weeks, and the facility moved out of “outbreak” status on July 26.

UPDATE: Degelau emailed on August 3 to say that the home’s Commandant Matthew Peterson wanted her to pass along that no federal employees work at the Marshalltown facility. Reynolds appointed Peterson last week.

SECOND UPDATE: An August 4 email to families and guardians reported that three more Iowa Veterans Home employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The facility’s COVID unit for residents remains empty.


Full text of July 26 news release from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

VA mandates COVID-19 vaccines among its medical employees including VHA facilities staff

WASHINGTON — July 26 Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced he will make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for Title 38 VA health care personnel — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors — who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit VHA facilities or provide direct care to those VA serves.

VA is taking this necessary step to keep the Veterans it serves safe.

Each employee will have eight weeks to be fully vaccinated.

“We’re mandating vaccines for Title 38 employees because it’s the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country,” McDonough said. “Whenever a Veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from COVID-19. With this mandate, we can once again make — and keep — that fundamental promise.”

The department’s decision is supported by numerous medical organizations including the American Hospital AssociationAmerica’s Essential Hospitals and a Multisociety group of the leading Infectious Disease Societies. The American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American College of Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, Association of American Medical Colleges, and National Association for Home Care and Hospice also endorsed mandating COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers.

In recent weeks, VA has lost four employees to COVID-19 — all of whom were unvaccinated. At least three of those employees died because of the increasingly prevalent Delta variant. There has also been an outbreak among unvaccinated employees and trainees at a VA Law Enforcement Training Center, the third such outbreak during the pandemic.

All VA employees are eligible to be vaccinated at no personal expense at any of our facilities. Employees will also receive four hours of paid administrative leave after demonstrating they have been vaccinated. Information in these FAQs or clinician and Veteran videos has details about the vaccine, its safety and effectiveness.

The safety and wellbeing of our Veterans and personnel is paramount.

Top photo of gates at Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown first appeared on the facility’s website.

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