Vaccinated residents die in COVID cluster at Kansas nursing home with low staff vaccination rate

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal

Three fully vaccinated residents of a Kansas adult care facility have died with COVID-19 amid an outbreak at the facility where staff vaccination rates are lower than the industry goal.

The Riley County Health Department on Thursday reported the COVID-19 deaths at Via Christi Village in Manhattan.

"We unfortunately reported four new deaths yesterday, three of which had been fully vaccinated and were residents at Via Christi Village," Riley County health director Julie Gibbs said during a Facebook Live on Thursday.

Via Christi Village is just one of 28 active long-term care facility outbreaks in the state. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported a combined 248 cases, 18 hospitalizations and 17 deaths as of Wednesday at the nursing homes and other facilities.

Via Christi Village has 16 cases in 14 days

The Manhattan care home has had 16 cases within the past 14 days, making it the largest active outbreak at a long-term care facility in the state, according to a KDHE list of exposure locations.

"Given the fact that Riley County is considered a high risk area with a high level of transmission, please consider wearing your mask inside public places, according to CDC guidance, regardless if you're vaccinated or not," Gibbs said.

Robert Copple, president of Ascension Via Christi Hospital Manhattan, joined the health department's Facebook Live.

"The best thing we can do is get more and more people vaccinated," Copple said. "What we know is that folks who are vaccinated tend to get hospitalized at much, much lower levels. I know everyone is always concerned about fatalities, and while we have had fatalities of vaccinated patients, over the last six months 99% of hospital fatalities due to COVID have been unvaccinated people. The odds really are not in the favor of an unvaccinated person."

Via Christi Village has a staff vaccination rate below the industry goal.

The Riley County Health Department on Thursday reported three fully vaccinated patients from an adult care facility have died from COVID-19 at Via Christi Village in Manhattan.

A Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services report released Thursday, with data as of July 18, showed 82% of residents and 59.7% of staff at Via Christi Village have been fully vaccinated.

The industry goal, established in February by LeadingAge and the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, was for 75% of senior living facility staff to be vaccinated by June 30.

Vaccination rates have been improving at Via Christi Village. The CMS data as of June 27 showed vaccination rates there were 67.4% of residents and 48.6% of staff.

More:Kansas nursing homes fall short of staff vaccination goal as COVID-19 outbreaks continue

Statewide, 55.9% of staff and 85.4% of residents at federally-regulated facilities have been vaccinated. The resident vaccination rate is above the national average, but the staff vaccination rate is below.

Ascension to require vaccination of staff

Ascension, which operates the Manhattan facility, announced Tuesday that employees will be required to get vaccinated, regardless of whether or not they provide direct patient care. Their deadline is Nov. 12, which aligns with the annual influenza vaccination mandate at the Catholic health ministry.

Exceptions may be requested for individuals who may not be able to get vaccinated due to a medical condition or a strongly-held religious belief.

The AHCA/NCAL has backed providers that choose to mandate vaccinations, but warns that such policies may exacerbate challenges with recruiting and retaining a qualified workforce.

Data:Is a new COVID-19 surge primarily hurting Kansas counties with low vaccination rates?

Via Christi Village's staff vaccination rate is better than Riley County as a whole. The KDHE reported 40.6% of all county residents were fully vaccinated as of Monday.

The Manhattan cluster was identified as the highly contagious delta variant fuels a coronavirus surge across much of the state. In the latest week's worth of genomic sequencing, 99% of cases have been the delta variant, according to KDHE data.

Vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are briefly taken out of refrigeration Wednesday during a vaccine clinic held by the Shawnee County Health Department at the Oakland Community Center, 801 N.E. Poplar St.

While COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, including against the delta variant, breakthrough cases have been reported among fully vaccinated individuals.

In Riley County, the health department has identified 56 breakthrough cases so far, with more than half of those confirmed to be the delta variant. Generally, the breakthrough patients have mild symptoms, Gibbs said.

It is unclear whether any of the vaccinated residents at Via Christi Village had comorbidities that limited their immune response.

"We will not be able to provide some specific information about patients or outbreaks due to HIPAA," said Alice Massimi, the Riley County public information officer.

The health department reported that the Via Christi Village patients were a 75-year-old man, a 92-year-old woman and a 98-year-old woman. They tested positive at the facility between July 12 and July 19.

"I know some people are ... quite honestly very uncaring to just say, well it's not that many people," Copple said of the rising COVID-19 death toll. "... So much of this is avoidable and unnecessary."