Nearly half of Iowa direct care workers surveyed say that they are more likely to remain working in health care settings because of vaccine mandates, yet more than a half of workers say they oppose vaccine mandates. Also, 18% say they are more likely to leave the field because of mandates, according to a new survey by Iowa CareGivers. The nonprofit, formed in 1992 to advocate for higher wages for direct care workers in the state, recently released results of a survey of direct care workers, nurses and other health professionals.

Leaders of the nonprofit say the survey indicates that the COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by health systems may keep people in the field longer because they want a safe working environment. The survey results can be found at this link.

The survey results could be a relief for those health care providers that imposed vaccine mandates earlier than the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and had concerns about losing more staff, Iowa CareGivers leaders said. It is also counter to some industry reports that the mandates will only force more people from the field when they are already experiencing a tight labor market.

“We can’t afford to assume that the COVID-19 vaccine mandates are the singular cause of staff shortages without exploring other aspects of the shortages,” said Maribel Slinde, board chair of Iowa CareGivers. “For example, many left the field early in the pandemic, before vaccines were available, due to underlying health conditions, lack of personal protective equipment, fear of infecting an at-risk child or other family member with COVID-19, and burnout,” she said.

A significant number of survey respondents — 46% — said they knew someone who had already left the field due to COVID, another important factor. IowaCaregivers conducted the survey in  cooperation with the Iowa Nurses’ Association and the Iowa Public Health Association.

Other key results of the survey:
• 33% are unsure about whether they will remain in the field.
• 54% oppose the vaccine mandates.
• 35% support the vaccine mandates.
• 11% are unsure whether they support or oppose the vaccine mandate.

For decades, low wages; lack of health care coverage, paid leave and other benefits; and lack of portable credentials have contributed to high staff turnover, according to Iowa CareGivers. While retail, restaurants and manufacturing have raised their starting hourly wage to $18 to $20 an hour, direct care workers’ wages have not kept pace, the association said. While the 2019 median hourly wage of $13.80 for direct care workers has likely increased since 2019, it’s still not enough to compete with other sectors, the nonprofit said.