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Vaccine Mandate Takes Effect For New York Health Workers, With Worker Shortages Feared

Moderna vaccine
Courtesy of Rockland County government
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A COVID vaccine mandate for healthcare workers started today in New York — and with it, a fear of staffing shortages at medical facilities.

On Saturday, Governor Kathy Hochul unveiled a comprehensive plan addressing staffing shortages in hospitals and other health care facilities statewide should they occur, including what could be done to increase the workforce in hospitals and nursing homes where employees failed to meet the state's deadline.

At Schenectady's Ellis Hospital, there is a Friday deadline for staff to receive a final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Officials say as of Monday, 94% of the staff has had at least one dose with 91% fully vaccinated. 69 employees who previously filed religious exemptions will be allowed to continue working, pending the outcome of court rulings.

At Saratoga Hospital, 95% of 3,126 employees have been vaccinated, leaving some 150 unvaccinated. Half of those employees have received an appropriate exemption. Unvaccinated employees without exemptions face unpaid administrative leave. The hospital says it is "working hard to address staffing shortages" and has "not yet curtailed any specific services."

St. Peter's Health Partners says it is "assessing the full impact of what will likely be significant staffing vacancies" with a stated goal of "vaccination, not termination," counting just under 400 staffers who have yet to provide proof of vaccination or declare their intent to get vaccinated. Officials are hopeful the number of unvaccinated will decrease in the hours remaining before the midnight deadline.

An Albany Medical Center spokesperson says the hospital is experiencing increased wait times due to staffing shortages felt nationwide and is "hopeful that the 272 members of our staff who are unvaccinated will become vaccinated for the safety of our community." Albany Med is also working to "keep the cancellation or postponement of surgeries to a minimum."

New York State Nurses Association Upstate Political Director Corey Ellis, also the Albany Common Council President, tells WAMC the union had no comment on impending staffing shortages "at the moment."

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says the number of people infected countywide is rising.

"And this is primarily with people that aren't vaccinated, and we had 52 new cases overnight. 39 didn't have a clear source and the rest of them either knew, you know, was at work or was traveling. So these are things that alarm us. But what's alarming to me is that there are now six patients, six new patients in the hospital, 32 county residents are hospitalized with the virus. Six are in the ICU, which is down a few from over the weekend. But unfortunately, I have to tell you, we had another person pass away from a virus last night, that brings our total up to 402."

Albany Medical Center President and CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna says the hospital has been treating so-called "breakthrough cases."

"A breakthrough case by definition is somebody who has been vaccinated, but yet still does get the virus. And yes, we have seen those cases, the vaccine is safe and effective, it's 95% effective, but that means there are cases 5% of the time where someone may get it. Overwhelmingly, when someone gets a breakthrough case, they're not going to get as sick as somebody who's vaccinated so they may get the virus, but they very rarely require hospitalization, or end up in the ICU."

Governor Hochul's response plan includes signing an executive order if necessary to declare a state of emergency seeking to increase workforce supply and allow qualified health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, retired and formerly practicing health care professionals to practice in New York.

The Albany, Bethlehem, Guilderland and Niskayuna school districts all now require athletes to be vaccinated. County Executive McCoy is concerned about students' mental health.

"It's hard for people to adjust to a new environment, especially parents wearing a mask, and the kids wear masks. And now they can play sports, they can't play sports, now they got to be fully vaccinated. And I think everyone's trying to make the right decisions and everyone's trying to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. You know, this, the sports, you know, I think it's good, but it's something they probably should have decided earlier on, to launch it at the last second. But again, I always say when is easy to be Monday quarterback, these school boards, these superintendents are really just trying to protect the children and trying to keep the school open."

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