ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – Republicans in the New York State Senate are warning that vaccine requirements for health care workers could drive many of them to quit, rather than get the shot. By September 27th, with limited exceptions, all staff at New York State’s hospitals and nursing homes will have had to receive at least their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. That deadline is October 7th for other health care workers.
“(W)e have heard from healthcare workers across New York State in various healthcare settings,” they wrote in a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul and New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, which was signed by 13 senators. “They indicate that local nursing homes and hospitals have already received mass resignation letters from staff due to such requirement.”
Rob Ortt, the North Tonawanda senator who serves as the Republican minority leader, visited the Northgate Health Care Facility in North Tonawanda Monday.
“Out of 300 employees in Niagara County, they are looking to lose over 90,” Ortt said.
In a statement, officials at Northgate’s parent company said they are working closely with workers and the union to encourage staff to get vaccinated. In July, for instance, they say they rolled out a cash-prize vaccination campaign across their entire portfolio. They also created a video, to be played in the facility’s break room, which aims to address questions related to vaccine hesitancy.
“We continue to applaud the staff who have stepped up and assisted in facilitating progressive and creative ways to ensure the health and safety of our residents and fellow team members throughout the pandemic,” they said in their statement. “As always, we continue to follow all mandates set forth by the DOH and CDC and remain in continuous contact with our representatives.”
The federal government is also implementing a vaccine requirement for health care workers, which will impact Medicare and Medicaid certified facilities. Ortt said that is “equally problematic and concerning”.
At the Buffalo Center and Ellicott Center nursing homes, which are operated by Centers Health Care, officials say while it has been heard that some employees have discussed resigning, nothing has been submitting in writing so far.
“With regarding to informing the staff of the September 27 mandate, leadership at Centers Health Care worked with the administration offices at both Buffalo and Ellicott Center to distribute a letter following the state’s announcement to each staff employee explaining the mandate,” said Jeff Jacomowitz, a spokesperson for Centers Health Care. So far, both facilities have not seen any mass resignations, but in fact, we have seen an increase of vaccinations among our Certified Nursing Assistants.
“This demonstrates the commitment our nurses have for our residents.”
In their letter, the senate Republicans urged the governor and health commissioner to offer a test-out option for health care workers unwilling to get the vaccine.
Stephen Hanse, the president of the New York State Health Facilities Association and New York State Center for Assisted Living, also wrote to Dr. Zucker endorsing a test-out option, at least temporarily. Hanse pointed out 94% of 201 skilled nursing providers who responded to a survey his group conducted said they are currently experiencing staff shortages as it is.
“The data shows that these healthcare workforce shortages are occurring in all counties throughout the state,” Hanse wrote.
In a statement, the New York State Department of Health acknowledged staffing shortages, 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.
Right now, 87% of ECMC’s employees are vaccinated, according to hospital staff. They were unable to say whether any of their workers would be resigning over this mandate.
“(A)ll staff were notified last week of the New York State vaccination mandate, which set September 27th as the deadline for vaccination. At that time, we will be able to provide accurate information on this subject,” hospital spokesperson Peter Cutler said in an email.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.