ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – While most New Yorkers were focused on September 27, many employers were anxiously waiting for September 28, which was the day healthcare workers had to be vaccinated to go to work. As of Monday, 92 percent of health care workers in New York State were fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times. This is up 70 percent from when the mandate was announced in August. The first in the nation mandate is leaving some employees without a job and creating a disruption in care.
“Everyone in Chemung County [Health] is at work today either because of religious exemption, medical exemption, or they got vaccinated,” Chemung County Executive Chris Moss told 18 News.
This mandate also applies to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The Corning Center and Bethany Village had nearly all of their staff vaccinated Tuesday. Three employees at Corning Center and five at Bethany Village are unvaccinated, but they are able to return to work if they get their first dose. At Bethany Village, those five employees have a 14 day reconsideration period before any further actions will be taken.
“We have close to 50 facilities and most of the facilities that we have are doing very well,” Jeff Jamonowitz, communications director for Centers Healthcare, said.
Some areas of the state are struggling, losing several employees due to the mandate. Gov. Kathy Hochul created contingency plans over the weekend, which including bringing in the medical units of the national guard, retired nurses and physicians as well as out-of-state health care workers to fill any gaps. She declared a State of Emergency to deal with potential staffing shortages resulting from the state’s new rules for healthcare worker vaccinations.
The order allows out-of-state and international health care workers to practice in New York. Additionally, it creates a fast-track process for retired workers to get certified to work and expands the list of people eligible to administer vaccinations.
“What’s the training curve going to be to bring somebody from the National Guard here to learn how a hospital or doctor’s office may do something?” Moss continued.
As this deadline came and went, many are looking toward mid-October when the courts will weigh in. The original mandate created in August called for no exemptions, meaning all healthcare workers had to be vaccinated regardless of religious beliefs. A federal judge blocked this portion of the mandate and is considering it. A decision is expected on October 12. This week workers could file a medical or religious exemption, but if the religious exemption is eliminated, health organizations may have to reevaluate.
“If they do get rid of that and we’re not allowed to accept those [exemptions], then it’s back to the drawing board to see what we’re going to do,” Chemung County Public Health Director Pete Buzzetti added.
Chemung County officials are calling for a test-out option, which is seen in other state and federal mandates. Faculty and staff in New York schools can test weekly or be vaccinated. There is a similar rule for the New York State Courts. County Executive Moss plans to discuss this with Gov. Hochul next week at a meeting with all county executives in Albany.
“Simply to tell people they’ve lost their job because they chose not to get vaccinated, in my opinion, is wrong,” Moss concluded.
Guthrie Health said in a statement Tuesday:
“COVID has impacted staffing across the country, but the health care vaccination programs are not the cause. Guthrie has had minimal changes in our staffing related to the vaccination requirement, as our caregivers have stepped up to meet the program requirements, placing patient safety first.”Dr. Edmund Sabanegh, President and CEO of The Guthrie Clinic
Arnot Health replied to 18 News request for comment saying in part:
“Arnot Health continues to evaluate its staffing levels and assess the impact on our organization following yesterday’s deadline for the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. As noted yesterday, approximately 95% of Arnot’s 3,000+ employees are currently vaccinated. The remaining staff members have met the criteria for some type of accommodation.”Kenneth Roberts, Arnot Health spokesperson
The rules apply not just to people like doctors and nurses, but also to others who work in health care institutions, like food service workers, administrators, and cleaners. Employees who refuse the shots face suspensions and termination. And workers terminated because of refusal to be vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment insurance without a doctor-approved request for medical accommodation.
WIVB and The Associated Press contributed to this report.