ROWLEY — The owner of a local nursing home is threatening to close his business should the state follow through with its order that all nursing home workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 10.
“I’m shutting the doors — it’s a very serious decision. If the state pushes us, so be it. It’s pathetic, it’s unfair,” Sea View Skilled Nursing & Rehab Services owner Steven Comley Jr. said Tuesday morning, adding that his decision is not set in stone.
Comley said 25% of his roughly 50 employees are refusing to be injected with the vaccine, a decision Comley believes he does not have the moral right to enforce.
“I believe they have the right to make that choice,” Comley said. “We’re not in jail and we’re not a socialist country, yet.”
Of the three available COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, only the Pfizer one has been fully approved by the federal Food & Drug Administration for people 16 and older.
The other two vaccines, manufactured by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have received only emergency use authorization from the FDA. The Pfizer vaccine also has received emergency use authorization from the FDA for those between the ages of 12 and 15.
Sea View Skilled Nursing & Rehab Services on Mansion Drive has been owned by the Comley family since 1954. Licensed to care for up to 140 residents, there are about 30 residents currently there, according to Comley. He says the low number of residents is due to a staffing shortage.
On Aug. 4, Gov. Charlie Baker announced all nursing homes must ensure that all personnel are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 10, unless the vaccine is likely to be detrimental to the individual’s health, or the worker objects to vaccination on the basis of religious belief.
“Personnel may not otherwise decline the vaccine,” the order reads.
Also as of Oct. 10, nursing homes have to ensure that all new hires are fully vaccinated or qualify for an exemption, according to the Aug. 4 order from the governor. Further, nursing homes were directed to ensure that all personnel received at least the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, if they are receiving a two-dose series, by Sept.1.
Comley called the order governmental overreach and said he contacted state officials, including Sen. Bruce Tarr’s office, hoping they could allow him an exemption to the mandate. He had no luck.
“But the governor has made up his mind and he’s not going to change it,” Comley said.
A phone call and email to Tarr’s office seeking more information regarding the interaction with Comley were not returned by deadline.
Comley went on to say that should the state force him to let go of those employees, it would compound the staffing shortage.
Given a choice, Comley said he would prefer to close the facility and find new jobs for his employees and new living arrangements for his residents.
He said he has yet to notify the state Department of Health, a required first step toward closing a facility, of what might come to pass. However, he said he spoke to the department Tuesday and told a representative that if he does not receive a waiver from the state, he will start the formal process of closing the nursing home.
“It’s not looking too good,” Comley said.
Should he do so, it kick-starts an up to 120-day process to find new facilities for residents. Comley has begun reaching out to families regarding his possible intentions to give them a head start in finding a new place for their loved ones, he said.
Not everyone has taken kindly to the heads up, according to Comley and local police.
Ipswich resident Emily Keough said she received a phone call from Comley on Sept. 2 saying the facility was closing and residents needed to be out by the end of the month. A day later, she came to Sea View to obtain a formal document regarding the closure, only to be told there was not any paperwork. Keough became so upset with staff there that the police were called.
Rowley police Chief Scott Dumas confirmed officers responded to Sea View on Sept. 3 when a confrontation took place between Keough and Comley. The disagreement became so heated that Comley obtained and issued a “No Trespassing” order against Keough.
Reached by a Daily News reporter on Tuesday, Keough said she was on the verge of panic in terms of her mother’s future.
“I’m nervous. I’ve been shaking all weekend,” Keough said, adding that she has contacted a lawyer regarding possible legal action against Comley.
“I can’t see my 96-year-old mother now,” she said.