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Masonicare will require all employees to get COVID-19 vaccine

Mystic — Masonicare, which has three senior living communities in Connecticut, including one off Coogan Boulevard, announced Wednesday that it is requiring all of its 1,800 employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine by June 30.

During a virtual interview with The Day, Masonicare President and CEO J.P. Venoit said it was the right thing for his organization to do. Masonicare's decision comes as many similar organizations involved in senior living and health care have urged their employees to get the vaccine but have not required it.

"We really felt it was our obligation to do this for our residents. That obligation weighs heavily on us," he said. "The last thing we want is for one of our employees to come in and give it to one of the residents or to another employee."

While Venoit said he expects to lose a few employees who refuse to get vaccinated, he said the willingness of so many employees to get the shots is "an affirmation I have the right people here for the right reasons."

In addition to the $45 million Mystic facility, which comprises 179 independent, assisted and memory care units, Masonicare, a nonprofit organization, has two similar facilities in Wallingford and one in Chester. It also has a skilled nursing center that includes a senior behavioral health hospital and provides home health care services across the state. In all, its serves almost 5,000 residents and patients a year. 

Venoit said Masonicare's COVID task force has met daily now for more than 400 days and saw the vaccine "as a ray of hope for us." He said he and Senior Director of Medical Services Dr. Ronald Schwartz received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 21, 2020, because they wanted to be an example for staff that it was safe.

He said they did extensive research on the vaccine's safety and are confident in their decision to require employees to get vaccinated. They said Masonicare also has been sending out frequent memos and videos to staff about getting the vaccine. Its facilities also hosted 80 CVS vaccination clinics, which made it easier for employees and residents to get inoculated. 

Venoit said about 85% of full-time staff members have received a coronavirus vaccine, along with a smaller percentage of part-time and per diem employees. He said the percentages are actually higher because some staff may not yet have submitted their documentation. He estimated the actual percentage is in the "high 90s." Other staff members, he said, have been waiting to receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has been paused over concerns about rare blood clots potentially linked to the shot.

Dr. Schwartz added there have been no major side effects among staff members who have been vaccinated. Venoit said an employee can request a medical exemption from the vaccine by providing information to Dr. Schwartz, who will review the case.

As for the employees who may still refuse the vaccine, Venoit said, "the science is the science and the data is data" and they will not be convinced no matter what Masonicare does. 

Ann Collette, Masonicare's vice president of strategy and business development, said other organizations in the industry have reached out to Masonicare to discuss its vaccine requirement, which she called a "bold and courageous decision."

Venoit said other organizations know requiring the vaccine is the right thing to do but they need the validation that it is working elsewhere first. He said he expects more organizations to require the vaccine for their staff.

Collette added that employers also are scared about losing the staff they have now and not being able to find replacements in the current labor market.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Editor's Note: Masonicare is requiring all of its 1,800 employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine by June 1.

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