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New York hospitals, nursing homes dread ‘massive exodus’ after vaccine deadline

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New York hospitals, nursing homes dread ‘massive exodus’ after vaccine deadline

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Nursing homes and hospitals statewide are facing a lot of stress as the state vaccine mandate for healthcare workers goes into effect in just five days.

On September 27, most health care workers will have to have at least one shot of the COVID vaccine or they could lose their job. The mandate could affect a lot of hospitals and long-term care facilities that still have unvaccinated staff members.

“I’m really fearful that we could see 20% of the workforce leave hospitals or long-term care,” said Ann Marie Cook, the President and CEO of Lifespan, which provides services for again adults and their caregivers. “We could see a massive exodus of workers in the short term.”

Check out the state data about vaccination rates at local adult care and skilled nursing facilities:

% of unvaccinated staff at skilled nursing facilities % of staff unvaccinated staff at adult care facilities
Albany 11% 7%
Columbia 25% 10%
Dutchess 18% 24%
Fulton 20% 9%
Greene 15% 11%
Herkimer 19% 14%
Montgomery 17% 17%
Rensselaer 25% 14%
Saratoga 10% 14%
Schenectady 13% 7%
Schoharie 53%
Ulster 20% 19%
Warren 25% 17%
Washington 15% 16%

“I feel like we’re in a pending crisis and we have to think about this and figure out a way how we’re going to care for people,” Cook said. “I have been hearing rumors that a lot of those facilities have stopped taking admissions now to prepare for the fact that maybe 40% of their workforce—hopefully less—will leave the facility.” 

Cook said with places not taking new patients, she worries about those who need care down the road. “Many older adults once they go into hospital need a rehab stay before they can go home. If some of the long-term care facilities aren’t accepting new admissions, how will older adults go home safely without rehabilitation?” she said. “Long-term care just doesn’t have the staff to care for them. It’s one of those terrible problems where it’s nobody’s fault. But the solutions are not easy to figure out.”

Nursing homes won’t be the only entities impacted by staffing shortages. Hospitals are expected to as well. Some hospital workers say they’ve been having conversations with coworkers who may be hesitant to get the vaccine. “This is obviously a very sensitive topic,” said Chris Burleigh, a Nurse Manager in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Strong Memorial Hospital. “It’s very controversial, and we are not afraid of those conversations. We are willing to have those conversations and engage with those conversations, but we all need to be kind to each other.”

The potential for understaffing is difficult to accept for health care workers who have been working tirelessly for the last year-and-a-half during the pandemic. “We have been working continuously for 18 months,” said Dr. Paritosh Prasad, Director of Surgical Intensive Care and the Highly Infection Disease Unit, Strong Memorial Hospital. “We are working under incredible stress, strain, and we are used to stress and strain, that is part of our job description, but this is something well outside the norm.”

Dr. Prasad and Burleigh are calling on everyone to do their part to help slow the spread and help elevate some of the stress put on frontline healthcare workers. “We are in a battle for our lives and all of you have the ability to help win this battle,” Prasad said. “We have the power to change how this pandemic rolls out. This is not something that is going to resolve itself without each and every one of our involvement, this is a fight every one of us is in and every one of us has a critical role to play.”

Dr. Prasad also addressed groups that have been standing outside Strong Hospital the past few weeks to protest vaccine mandates. “I am not going to say that leaving the hospital and seeing people protesting and yelling things at you isn’t a punch in the gut,” Dr. Prasad said. “We leave it all on the table for the patients we are taking care of.”

Still, with a lot of uncertainty about what the next few weeks will bring, healthcare workers say they will work together and serve patients who need care. “At the end of the day, we are still going to stand shoulder to shoulder with them,” Burleigh said. “We are still going to take care of our patients, regardless or not if we agree.”

On Tuesday, a federal judge has ordered an extension on the temporary restraining order blocking New York from forcing certain medical workers to be vaccinated, but this specifically applies to those with a religious exemption. The order was extended until October 12.

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