POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A leader at a Lakeland senior living facility is calling on the county’s largest hospital to follow his lead.

The Estates at Carpenters, a nursing home, independent living, and assisted living facility 400 seniors call home, is requiring new hires to be vaccinated.

Existing staff will have to be vaccinated eventually.

Staff and residents first had access to the COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020.

“I incorrectly assumed everyone would run to the front of the line and they did not. So we made it apparent very early on to our staff that it was going to, at some point, be mandated,” said CEO and Executive Director Brian Robare.

At last check, Robare said, 71% of his staff was vaccinated.

Some people have quit or pulled their job applications because of the policy.

“We would tell them to go work somewhere else. Very honestly, it’s our responsibility to the residents that we serve. The science is good and we would ask them to speak to someone with actual knowledge of the vaccine,” said Robare.

An outbreak in September 2020 took the lives of up to 12 residents at the facility, according to the health center’s administrator Matthew Thompson.

“I think that there are people that would have contracted COVID if we had not done (the vaccine mandate) and they might not have lived through it so I sleep pretty easy at night,” he said.

Nearly all the residents are now vaccinated.

Resident Ralph Posey, 90, supports the mandate for employees.

“I’m very happy with that because if they weren’t and they brought in the thing, at my age, I would die,” Posey said.

On Monday, Lakeland Regional Health reported it was treating 349 COVID-19 positive patients, with 36 patients in the intensive care unit.

“We would call on Lakeland Regional to do the exact same thing we’re doing, and mandate their staff to get vaccinated. They’re the 800-pound gorilla in town and we think they share that responsibility,” said Robare.

While doctors and leadership pleaded with the public last week to get vaccinated, the medical center is not requiring its employees to be vaccinated, according to hospital leadership.

It is also not keeping track of how many employees are vaccinated.

“Although we offer the vaccine to all of our team members at our facility, many have chosen other locations, such as pharmacies to get vaccinated; therefore, we do not have complete data regarding our team’s inoculation status,” wrote Timothy J. Boynton, MBA, Lakeland Regional Health vice president of Development and chief public relations and communications officer in a statement.

“It’s crazy how high the numbers are out there and I don’t understand why we’re not doing more to contain it,” said The Estates at Carpenters certified nursing assistant Marianne McCollum.

An AARP report shows Florida’s nursing home worker vaccination rate is the second-lowest in the country.

To find nursing home vaccination data, visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website.