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Hundreds of capital region healthcare workers miss immunization deadline


ALBANY – Hundreds of healthcare workers in the capital region missed Monday’s deadline to be vaccinated against COVID or be fired, but the impact this will have is not immediately clear.

Area hospitals and nursing homes, all short-staffed even before the state-imposed ultimatum takes effect, say they don’t yet know how many of their workers will hold tight and refuse the vaccine , and how this will affect operations at the facilities.

Even the number of people to be suspended or fired was unclear on Monday: A hospital said 43 employees were not vaccinated by mid-afternoon, then emailed an update a moment later. late – another worker had received the vaccine. By 8 p.m., they were down to 36.

The region’s largest hospital and healthcare system – Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Health Partners – have both said some non-emergency procedures could be postponed and suspended if enough of their employees leave.

Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed the September 27 deadline. His successor, Governor Kathy Hochul, upheld and even embraced the ultimatum to at least get the first shot.

On Saturday, she urged unvaccinated healthcare workers to get vaccinated and announced a contingency plan to avert a crisis if large numbers of those workers refused.

The plan called for enabling recent graduates, retirees and health professionals from other states and countries to provide care; deploy medically trained National Guard members; and requesting federal disaster medical assistance teams.

Late Monday morning, Hochul defined the midnight deadline as a way to reduce the spread of a disease that has killed more than 56,000 New Yorkers and to increase public confidence in healthcare workers.

At a press conference, she said: “Can’t we just say it’s a basic human right that everyone should know they’ll be safe when they enter a health facility or you have your elderly parents or grandparents in a house? nursing that they will not get sick because of someone who is in charge of their care? ”

When Hochul spoke at noon on Monday, she said the number of unvaccinated workers who would be banned from work was unknown – there appeared to be an increase in the vaccination rate during the day.

But on the other side of the equation, she is pushing the courts to eliminate the religious exemption from the vaccine’s mandate, and she expects to win, which would create another group of healthcare workers forced to choose. between jab and work.

Hospitals and nursing homes knew that day was coming, the governor said, and the state will work with them to meet their needs.

Some institutions have already limited elective procedures in preparation, she noted.

“It won’t be a perfect situation, but again, it’s preventable,” Hochul said of New York’s healthcare landscape on Tuesday morning.

Here is the situation in some local health facilities, as reported by facilities to the Daily Gazette on Monday afternoon:

ELLIS MEDICINE

At Ellis Medicine in Schenectady, the full-time equivalent of about 100 people in 75 departments had not received the vaccine. They will go through a disciplinary process and have the opportunity to change their mind before being fired.

The situation is fluid, given that unvaccinated employees could decide to be vaccinated and the 69 employees who have religious exemptions could lose them. The uncertainty is similar to planning for the outbreak earlier in the pandemic, when Ellis had to be prepared for sudden changes in demand for care.

Emergency options now include consolidating essential services in a reduced number of locations and reducing non-essential services. The continued shortage of staff across the state and beyond has led Ellis to offer hiring bonuses, streamline the hiring process, and use contracted agency staff.

All of this increases the stress on the remaining workers in the organization.

“We warmly congratulate our staff for the sacrifices they continue to make to serve their community,” said a spokesperson. “The demands of a global pandemic, and now a widespread staff shortage, tax our colleagues at home and abroad, and we thank them for their continued dedication to our patients. “

GLENDALE’S HOUSE

Glendale Home, the nursing facility operated by Schenectady County in Glenville, had five unvaccinated employees out of a workforce of 267, and they are spread across multiple departments, so their departure is unlikely to create a crisis.

However, the establishment is understaffed. It has hired 11 certified practical nurses and three licensed practical nurses since July, and is looking to hire more CNAs, LPNs and registered nurses.

The county has instituted hiring bonuses of $ 1,500 to $ 2,000 and will increase shift differentials in 2022 as another recruiting tool.

ALBANY MEDICAL CENTER

The region’s largest hospital also appears to have one of the largest contingents of unvaccinated employees.

“We hope that the 272 members of our staff who are not vaccinated will be vaccinated for the safety of our community,” said a spokesperson.

Those who did not receive the jab on Monday at midnight will be suspended without pay for seven days and then sacked if they still do not get their first shot.

Albany Med said it would have practical impacts, although it will help minimize the number of postponed or canceled appointments and surgeries.

“Like most hospitals, Albany Med is experiencing increased wait times due to staff shortages being felt nationwide. We continue to provide safe care and take proactive steps to recruit and retain staff, including referral bonuses and rewards for participation, ”the spokesperson said.

ST. ROCK

St. Peter’s Health Partners, a system that includes five hospitals and eight nursing homes, said it had just under 400 employees who had neither proven they were vaccinated nor declared their intention to be vaccinated. .

SPHP Acute Care chief medical officer Dr Thea Dalfino said Monday morning that the organization was continuing to provide these employees with training and support in hopes of changing their minds.

“At the same time, we are assessing the full impact of what will likely be significant vacancies,” said Dalfino. “Patient care is our number one priority. We are carefully considering many options to fill the gaps to ensure care is not interrupted. This could result in the temporary suspension of certain services, including elective surgeries. “

SARATOGA HPITAL

Saratoga Hospital issued its own internal vaccine warrant on August 9, even before Cuomo’s directive, so the hospital and its staff had a little more time to adjust.

Despite this, as of Monday, about 150 of 3,126 were not vaccinated. About half of the 150 people have been granted religious exemptions, and some of the other half continue to receive proof of vaccination obtained off-site. Those who do neither will be placed on administrative leave without pay.

Hospital CEO Angelo Calbone said the hospital has not cut any services but may need them, so it can focus on patients with the most critical needs – because it there is no available stock of replacement workers.

“The struggle to maintain appropriate staffing levels has increased for many reasons,” Calbone said. “Some employees who have had to deal with long hours and pressure have simply chosen this time to retire or leave for other less stressful areas. A small percentage is gone due to the requirements that healthcare workers need to be vaccinated. “

The hospital has stepped up its recruitment efforts; pays bonuses to new employees and bonuses to existing employees who refer them; increased some pay grades; and will contact graduate nursing students directly in December.

NATHAN LITTAUER

Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home said 36 employees still had not been vaccinated as of Monday evening, but two of them had recently requested a religious exemption.

The practical impact will be a temporary closure of the primary care offices in Broadalbin and the town of Johnstown to retain support staff; the two practices will be consolidated in Mayfield’s office.

Regardless of the final number, departures will be noticed, a spokeswoman said.

“The impact of any loss of staff is hard hit by a small hospital and nursing home. We are no exception.

ST. MARY’S HEALTH CARE

St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam said some of the last employees on hold were getting vaccinated on Monday afternoon, and less than 30 are still expected to go unvaccinated on Tuesday morning.

As a result, administrative planning was also fluid, with potential adjustments to staff, services and resources as needed, if necessary.

The only major impact expected Monday was at the Highway 67 Emergency Care Clinic in Charlton – emergency care there will be temporarily suspended for a week. This is SMH’s least-used emergency care office, so its goal is to focus on primary care, which will be offered alongside emergency care from November 1.

SMH said he hopes higher starting salaries and a new recruiting platform will give him a boost in the ongoing recruiting / retention effort.

SHAKER PLACE

Shaker Place Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a Colony nursing home operated by Albany County, said it was considering the forced departure of five of its 250 employees.

“Losing any caregiver is difficult, but we are ready and continue to recruit new staff at all levels while retaining our dedicated staff,” said CEO Larry Slatky.

Nursing homes across the state have experienced a high infection rate and death toll among residents, who are among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, and among staff. Both groups were given priority for vaccination for this reason.

“Over 98% of our staff have received the vaccine and I would like to thank each of them for their commitment to our residents throughout the pandemic which has been exceptional,” Slatky said.

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