Health care facility preparing for short staffing, potential discharges as vaccine mandate for workers nears

Local News

FREDONIA, N.Y. (WIVB) – An assisted living home in Chautauqua County says it could lose one-third of its staff in just weeks, and as a result, half of its residents could have to be discharged. It’s all because of New York State’s mandate that health care workers receive the COVID vaccine, the administrator says.

“We’re looking at, like a storm coming in, and we’re in the eye of the storm,” said Tammy McCool, who is in charge at the WCA Home in Fredonia. “We’re preparing for the back end to come at us.”

COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc on the WCA home, as it has at so many facilities like it across the world. McCool says five residents have died from the virus. Another 12 of them left to go to another facility. Multiple key staff members contracted the virus and never came back, instead deciding to take work elsewhere.

Now the virus is set to strike again.

With limited exceptions, New York State rules say come September 27th, workers at hospitals and nursing homes must have at least one COVID shot. That deadline is October 7th for other facilities, such as the WCA Home.

The facility has a staff of 21 people. Seven of them are currently unvaccinated, McCool said. Of those seven, six have said they have no intention to get the vaccine and just one said they were considering it. The administrator admits she wishes all seven would get the shot, but she respects that it is each person’s personal choice.

“It would make everyone’s life easier and would allow the residents to stay here,” McCool said.

State senator George Borrello, who represents the Southern Tier, is monitoring the situation closely.

“These are residents who, their children are senior citizens in many cases,” Borrello said. “How are they going to be cared for? Where are they going to go?”

“When you have to say goodbye to your neighbor, say goodbye to the staff, and look at starting all over in another facility at 92 years old, or 95 years old, or 87 years old, it’s really not fair to them at all,” McCool added.

On Monday, the New York State Department of Health acknowledged that they are aware of the potential problem across the state, and said they would listen to any and all input that helps to protect patients, visitors, the public, and health care workers. But they also stressed the importance of the requirement.

“The Department is aware of potential staffing concerns however our overriding focus is the protection of patients and residents in our healthcare settings, which is why everyone who is medically able should be vaccinated, especially healthcare workers who interact and care for our most vulnerable at risk New Yorkers,” health officials wrote in the statement.

On Tuesday, opponents of the health care worker vaccine mandate won a small victory. A federal judge in Utica issued a temporary restraining order which would prevent the state from telling employers to deny religious exemptions. Hazel Crampton-Hays, a press secretary for Governor Kathy Hochul, said the state is considering all of its legal options. She specified the judge’s order does not suspend the vaccine mandate, but simply stops the Department of Health from enforcing the mandate when individuals claim a religious exemption.

“Governor Hochul is doing everything in her power to protect New Yorkers and combat the Delta variant by increasing vaccine rates across the State,” Crampton-Hayes said. “Requiring vaccination of health care workers is critical to this battle.”

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.

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