By Liz Collin

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. (WCCO) — Tough decisions for Minnesota nursing homes as a looming vaccine mandate is making a staffing shortage even worse.

WCCO traveled to Montevideo where one care facility is bracing for a third of its workforce to potentially walk away.

READ MORE: COVID In Minnesota: State Tallies More Than 10,000 Reinfections Since Pandemic's Start

Luther Haven Nursing Home has kept new COVID-19 cases out of the building for months. Yet there is a sense of uncertainty surrounding the weeks ahead.

“Our staff has made the comment that last year we’re heroes, and now if you don’t take the vaccine, your just zeros,” assistant director of nursing Jennie Carlson said.

Carlson and Dawn Huelsman, the director of nursing at the nursing home, are vaccinated but more than 40 of their colleagues are not.

Come Dec. 6, if the workers haven’t had their first dose, they’ll be forced to leave under the federal mandate.

“We have a high number that have very strong beliefs as to why they don’t want to be vaccinated and don’t feel it’s fair the government says they have to in order to keep their job,” Carlson said.

The nursing home already has 20 open positions to care for its 56 residents, who are in an area of the state where barely half of the population has had the shot.

“We’re not alone. Most of the nursing homes in surrounding communities are having staffing issues, filling them let alone putting this mandate on top of it,” Huelsman said.

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As administrator, Justin Hughes says they’ll have no choice but to extend hours for some positions to fill gaps and pile on more responsibilities to care for their residents.

“We know it’s going to put a big strain on what we’re able to do here,” Hughes said.

He believes trying to raise their average $18 an hour wage also needs to be a part of the conversation, as turning down any new admissions to Luther Haven is looking more likely by the day.

“We have to worry about that in a short amount of time,” Hughes said.

Leading Age Minnesota says more than 70% of the state’s nursing homes are already limiting admissions. That’s up 30% since last year and the number one reason is insufficient staffing.

The Minnesota Department of Health says 75% of nursing home employees statewide are vaccinated.

Currently, 20% of Minnesota’s caregiving positions remain unfilled.

In August alone, the state experienced 1 .5 times more resignations than hires, a rate considered unsustainable.

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Liz Collin