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Saratoga Hospital CEO Discusses Vaccine Mandate

Saratoga Hospital President and CEO Angelo Calbone
Photo provided by Saratoga Hospital
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Saratoga Hospital President and CEO Angelo Calbone

New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers has placed stress on hospitals as some workers refuse to take the shot.

Governor Kathy Hochul has signed an executive order intended to address staffing shortages, but some providers were experiencing staffing issues even before the vaccine mandate.

Saratoga Hospital CEO Angelo Calbone says about 95 percent of staff are vaccinated, and employees who have refused a vaccine have been placed on leave.

Calbone spoke with WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard about the hospital’s experience with the vaccination mandate.

Angelo Calbone:

We did have in place the announcement that we were moving toward a vaccine mandate here, prior to the state's decision that was that was done in coordination with the region's institution, we collectively removing to that position. Our internal mandate was a little bit different than what ultimately came out of the state. It did have some other options for flexibility. With the announcement of the state's mandate, that you served our policy, and we we changed our internal mandate policy to mirror the state. So we never actually implemented, what was laid out is the hospital's specific policy.

Lucas Willard:

What percentage of employees right now is vaccinated or has at least received one shot?

Angelo Calbone:

Well, we were somewhere between 95 97% that, you know, that are vaccinated, which is, which is really pretty good. Yeah, I think the world would cheer if, you know, if states and regions were at 97%. And we're pleased with that. But the challenge we have, is it unless it's 100%. You know, it negatively impacts some of our employees, and we have lost some staff. But I think it's important to know that the vaccine mandate really is only a small part of the story. Coming out of COVID last year, really, you know, I think what we all look back on is having been, you know, our most significant surge. Many employers, I think he's almost the most employers and particularly healthcare, lost a lot of staff. We were fortunate, you know, we had the hospital, we're fortunate or a community was fortunate all of our patients. By and large, our staff really, really stuck with it during those horrible surges, and just did wonderful workforce. When that subsided, you know, is the term I use often is it's like, there was a collective exhale. And a great number of people chose to retire, change careers, and, frankly, just take some time off. And I can't follow him for that. So we were in a developing staff shortage. Anyway, there is ultimately now I would say, evolved into more of a staff crisis. It is very difficult to recruit staff at any level. We tend to think of hospitals as being made up of licensed professionals, but we need all sorts of folks to do the work that we do here. And we're having challenges recruiting pretty much across the board. The vaccine mandate, has exacerbated that, but we were really in a crisis with or without the mandate. And, you know, while that has added some challenge, you know, we do believe it was the right thing to do. We just wish we had been in a bit of a different state, in terms of staffing, when it hit us.

Lucas Willard:

So you said that the percentage right now vaccinated workers is 95 to 97%. Did those numbers jump up when that Monday deadline arrived? And did any employees or a significant percentage of those who had not gotten the shot, step up to get that vaccination on Monday?

Angelo Calbone:

Yeah, it did increase really over that last week. I'm not sure I would call it a significant jump in the vaccination rate. But it was meaningful, you know, any, any one or two people that that went ahead and were vaccinated and stayed with us is meaningful. If I had to guess, maybe we had, you know, two dozen in that last week that went in, were vaccinated.

Lucas Willard:

Has the hospital had, did the hospital, was the hospital forced to fire any workers after that 5pm deadline Monday?

Angelo Calbone:

Well, we haven't. We haven't fired. Folks that didn't meet that deadline. We've placed them on on leave. And we'll we'll reevaluate that leave in 90 days. So they weren't terminated immediately by that date, quite honestly. We hope many of them, maybe have some second thoughts and returned to us.

Lucas Willard:

Has Saratoga hospital requested or received any help from the governor's office in regards to filling positions? I know that Governor Hochul has said she would utilize the National Guard if she needs to, to bring workers and so has Saratoga hospital made any requests like that?

Angelo Calbone:

No. We're we're reviewing reviewing the authorizations and the offers. And we're we're pleased that the governor is doing that. I look at some of the moves that are being put forth is good, more long term in terms of, you know, kind of delivering some benefit to us. But no, we have we've made no request specific requests for workers through that process.

Lucas Willard:

Have any services been cut back in the meantime?

Angelo Calbone:

Noot meaningfully. We're compressing some hours of services. But so far, we've been able to accommodate our patients inside of the reduced hours. That may work. But I have to remain open to the reality that we could reach a point where we do have to cut back on various services and the elective work would obviously be the first. That would be cut back. But we haven't done that, as of this moment.

Lucas Willard:

Does the hospital have enough staff on hand to whether another surge? I know that hospitals are required to have contingency plans for when things get bad to free up beds if they need to. And I know that the Northeast has done a lot better than some other parts of the country in regards to available beds and ICU beds. But with the staffing shortages, is Saratoga Hospital still in a good position to adjust things to accommodate another rise in hospitalizations if necessary?

Angelo Calbone:

Frankly, no. Surprisingly, we're experiencing an unprecedented unprecedented level of volume, not COVID related across almost every service, from urgent care to emergency department to inpatient services, we're seeing volumes we haven't seen in a number of years. So we're very, very busy. I would say we are on most days here we have met or exceeded our maximum capacity. So no, I, I suspect if you talk to most of the regional institutions, they would tell you they are at or beyond their maximum capacity. We could not absorb a surge like we saw last year, at least at this point.

Lucas Willard:

Does that further the call then to the general public to get vaccinated to avoid that stress on hospitals?

Angelo Calbone:

The answer to that is yes. We, you know is the vaccine vaccination rate goes up, the hospital utilization goes down. The severity of illness goes down. And it it it has provided relief across across the board. You know, we're not seeing at least here at Saratoga hospital. Our number of COVID cases has actually been drifting downward. So when we talk about internal pressure, and exceeding exceeding our capacity COVID isn't actually driving that right now. And that is a reflection on our broad community, seeking vaccination and practicing good habits. So yeah, please, if anyone is wondering whether it's it's impactful, it is impactful and it helps relieve the pressure on the healthcare system.

Lucas Willard:

And lastly, I understand that there was a job fair this week that Saratoga hospital participated in along with some other regional health care providers. Are you interested in holding any more of those? Is there need to hold any more of those? And is there any other outreach being done to attract workers?

Angelo Calbone:

The answer is pretty much yes on all your questions. You know, we've had multiple job fairs, we'll continue to have job fairs. It's a nice convenient way for someone just to stop in to see what's available. We've had some, some success with that. Not enough and frankly not fast enough to keep up with many of the departures we've all seen. But we're going to continue to do that. We're reaching out to retired staff. We're being as flexible as you can be with part time, full time roles. We're hoping to get our volunteers more heavily engaged to lend us a hand. We're looking at just about everything that could make some reasonable sense to make sure our staff has the support they need.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai