OCEANSIDE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – The vaccination rate for nursing home staff is leaving some family members worried about the well-being of their loved ones.

As CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock reports, Catalina Perez turned 99 Monday.

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“She survived COVID last year, thank God,” said her grandson Henry Grullom, who is also a representative for Voices For Seniors.

Grullom stopped by her home at The Plaza in the Bronx to help her celebrate, and then spoke with Murdock via Zoom.

COVID VACCINE

“Just under 48% of staff there have been vaccinated. Wow. Wow. That’s something that should be higher at this point,” he said.

The state average is higher. According to the New York state Department of Health, it’s now 58% – up from 46% in mid-March.

Grullom feels strongly that no one should be required to take the vaccine, but admits low numbers are a problem.

“We need nursing home staff to be properly vaccinated because our loved ones are there and not protected,” he said.

At Oceanside Care Facility in Nassau County, the staff vaccination rate far exceeds the state average.

“About 90% vaccinated,” said Oceanside Care Center administrator Aryeh Greenfield.

Greenfield says educating himself first, then his staff, proved critical in achieving one of the highest staff vaccination rates in the state.

“I went to individual employee who was hesitant and had a conversation. What are your fears? What’s bothering you, what makes you nervous?”

Murdock asked Greenfield if staff vaccinations affect visitation.

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“It could, in the sense where they’re more prone to testing positive for COVID-19, which would shut down visitation, according to guidance,” Greenfield said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

It has happened, according to Debbie Sokolofsky Banahan.

“Once in a while, they say to me ‘You can’t come in, someone tested positive,'” Sokolofsky Banahan said.

She comes to visit her 92-year-old father Manny as often as possible. She said the former NBA referee and COVID Survivor has a larger than life personality – the isolation through the worst of the pandemic was horrible for him.

“He said I just want to go out and talk to people, I want to eat with people in the dining room,” Sokolofsky Banahan said.

Murdock shared with Sokolofsky Banahan the impressive staff vaccination rate at her father’s home.

“I guess we chose the right place,” she said.

She too believes vaccines should not be mandatory.

“But I really feel for the safety of these lovely people at the end of their lives,” she said. “They should do it not for themselves, for them.”

The New York State Department of Health shared this statement with CBS2:

“Nursing homes have an obligation to vaccinate their residents and staff… and as a result of DOH’s continued intervention we’re seeing progress.”

In April, emergency regulations required nursing homes to offer vaccines to staff and residents. Lack of compliance could lead to a $2000 fine per violation.

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The Department of Health also shared that because vaccines are approved under emergency use authorization, the state cannot currently mandate COVID-19 vaccines.

Vanessa Murdock