Pennsylvania Nursing Home Staff Offered $750 Bonuses to Vaccinate
Houston hospital employees offered $500 — so 'scarce' they're having to pay people to actually take it
EASTON, Pa. – Northampton County will offer staff members of Gracedale, the county nursing home, $750 each to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
That could cost as much as $490,000 if all 650 employees get the shot. The payment is an incentive. County Executive Lamont McClure said employees cannot be required to get the shots.
And this hospital in Houston is offering employees a $500 bribe, I mean bonus, to be vaccinated. That’s not unethical at all! pic.twitter.com/uU8QIdKudV
— Alex Berenson (@AlexBerenson) December 31, 2020
“Lives and livelihoods will be saved by a robust vaccination program,” McClure said.
He said the county will use federal CARES Act money to pay the incentive. The county received $27.6 million from the federal government for pandemic relief. It kept some and distributed the rest to nonprofit groups, small businesses, schools and local governments.
The need to make Gracedale safe is urgent as the coronavirus continues to rage, McClure said.
“Long-term care facilities are where people die,” McClure said. The average age of county residents who died of COVID-19 is 80, he added.
McClure and Gracedale Administrator Jennifer Stewart-King said the payment will help persuade staff to get shots, which McClure said will soon be available to the county.
Stewart-King said not all employees will want the vaccine, but the payment could sway some. She said she would get the vaccine first to set an example.
“Because it was fast-tracked, there was some concern about it,” she said. COVID-19 vaccines were developed in months, while some earlier vaccines required years of work.
“We have anecdotal reports that people are concerned,” McClure said. “Their concerns are valid, no doubt about it.”
Council members questioned whether other employees would be paid to be vaccinated.
“We’re starting to have issues down at the prison” with COVID-19, Councilman Kevin Lott said. “Where does this start and end?”
“Everybody’s going to say, ‘I want the money too’,” Council President Ronald Heckman said. “If it’s a medical concern, does money help?”
Councilwoman Tara Zrinski asked about human services employees, who also deal with the public.
“As soon as we are able to vaccinate the COs [prison guards], we will make it available to them,” McClure said. “And inmates.” However, there is no money to pay incentives to other employees.
McClure said Gracedale vaccination payments are an authorized use of the federal money because the goal is to reduce spread of the virus. He asked council to look at the big picture for all county residents.
“You want your corner bar open? This is the way to do it,” he said. Getting vaccinations to residents and staff in long-term care facilities will prevent deaths and slow the spread of the coronavirus, he explained.
When Heckman pointed out that Gracedale employees are still getting hazard pay, McClure said they are — and that, like it or not, “Gracedale runs on incentives.” Incentives such as higher rates for certain shifts are part of the culture of the Upper Nazareth Township facility.
“I need to do this for my residents and staff to protect them,” Stewart-King said.
When Councilman William McGee asked if some time limit would be set on when employees could ask for the $750, McClure said Stewart-King would use her own judgment.
“If somebody comes in in July and says, ‘Hey I’ll get vaccinated now, give me the $750,’ we might look at it differently,” he said.
The final vote was 7-0 in favor. Lott, Zrinski, McGee, John Cusick, Thomas Giovanni, Lori Vargo Heffner and Margaret Ferraro were in favor. Kerry Myers was absent and Heckman left early to attend a meeting of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority.