9 Vaccinated Nursing Home Residents Die After Montana Lets Healthcare Workers Go Unvaccinated

Nine vaccinated nursing home residents in Montana have died of COVID-19 amid a state ban on mandatory vaccinations for health care workers and other employees.

The deceased individuals lived in the Libby Care Center of Lincoln County. They died as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak in the center. A tenth unvaccinated resident also died.

The outbreak began due to an unvaccinated Certified Nursing Assistant who worked in the center, Cascadia Healthcare, the company that operates the center, told KPAX.

An additional 16 staff members also tested positive for the virus, according to Cascadia Healthcare Director of Corporate Affairs Steve LaForte.

Approximately 88 percent of the center's residents are vaccinated against COVID-19. However, only 54 percent of the center's staff is also vaccinated.

COVID-19 nursing home deaths Montana vaccination mandate
Nine vaccinated nursing home residents in Montana have died of COVID-19 amid a state ban on mandatory vaccinations for health care workers. In this photo, a funeral home employee attaches a name tag to the wrist of a patient who died that morning of suspected COVID-19 in a nursing home on April 18, 2020. Lynsey Addario/Getty

Earlier this year, the state's Republican-led legislature passed a bill banning employers from requiring vaccination for their workers. The law, signed by Republican Governor Greg Gianforte, considers such requirements a form of "discrimination" in violation of the state's human rights laws.

Montana is the only U.S. state to have passed such a law.

The law also requires health care facilities to make "reasonable accommodations" for unvaccinated workers to keep working, such as by wearing masks and taking other precautions.

"While the governor continues to encourage Montanans to receive safe and effective vaccines, doing so is voluntary and no individual should face discrimination based on vaccination status," Brooke Stroyke, Gianforte's spokesperson, told the Associated Press.

On September 22, the Montana Medical Association, a Missoula hospital, medical clinics and individuals with compromised immune systems filed a lawsuit to overturn the law, The Independent Record reported.

The lawsuit said that the law potentially violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because it discourages immune-compromised workers and patients from entering healthcare workspaces. The law also violates state constitutional guarantees for the government to maintain a "clean and healthful environment" for all state residents, the lawsuit stated.

Furthermore, the law compromises the safety of healthcare spaces because it increases the possible transmission of COVID-19 and other preventable diseases that can cause serious illness or death, the lawsuit continued.

Allowing unvaccinated health care workers to continue working in healthcare spaces also "undermine the credibility" of doctors who urge people to get vaccinated, the lawsuit added.

On Wednesday, Gianforte deployed soldiers from the Montana National Guard to help overburdened hospitals. On Friday, the state reported 416 people hospitalized with COVID-19, the Montana Free Press reported.

As of September 24, Montana ranks 36th among U.S. states with the highest vaccination rates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 48.07 percent of its eligible population has been fully vaccinated.

On September 20, the state reported 1,635 new COVID-19 cases, its highest-ever daily toll. The state's previous high was 1,622 cases on November 14, 2020.

New cases throughout the state had declined since January. But they began rising dramatically at the start of July, mostly due to the highly contagious and lethal Delta variant.

Newsweek contacted Libby Care Center of Lincoln County for comment.