Officials in Seneca County joined neighboring communities pushing back on New York State’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. The concern? A significant loss of valuable staff at healthcare facilities already stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While County Manager Mitch Rowe could not confirm that the version of the letter that went to Governor Kathy Hochul and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker mirrored the one they received and were asked to sign-on to, the intent behind it remained the same from the Board of Supervisors’ position.
“While we fully support COVID-19 vaccines and urge every eligible New Yorker to get vaccinated, the eleven counties represented in this letter share grave concerns about the practical implications of your proposed mandate on the stability of our healthcare system,” the letter reads. “Local nursing homes and hospitals have already begun receiving mass resignations of staff effective Sept. 26, 2021, one day before the proposed vaccine mandate is set to go into effect. As I am sure you are both aware, all levels of healthcare are already experiencing significant staffing shortages caused by a myriad of factors.”
While reports like this circulated on social media, none were confirmed with the companies operating healthcare facilities in the Finger Lakes.
In fact, a letter obtained last week from Rochester Regional Health, which was sent out to all employees, noted that anyone who was not vaccinated by the deadline of Sept. 27 would be terminated. Rochester Regional Health operates a number of medical offices, hospitals, and other medical facilities in the region.
“Anecdotally, we have heard from local hospital and nursing home partners that they may have to reduce their bed capacity by as much as one third or more if the unvaccinated employees resign rather than receive the vaccine,” the open letter to Hochul and Zucker continues. “The potential mass exodus of healthcare staff in late September, coming several weeks after children return to school, coupled with the continued increase in COVID-19 cases across the state caused by the proliferation of the Delta variant is a recipe for crisis throughout the entire healthcare system.”
What does it mean for these facilities?
Well, the letter suggests that nursing homes will be forced to “discharge patients” and ultimately lead to reduced capacity at hospitals. “The inability of hospitals to discharge patients into nursing home facilities, who will no longer have capacity to accept new admissions, will create a backlog in the hospital system and imperil our acute care capacity as we head into the fall and winter months,” the letter continues.
Seneca County has no hospital.
The letter from leaders indicates that they hope everyone gets vaccinated, but that it is by their own choice.
“We all sincerely hope that all healthcare staff change course and decide to become fully vaccinated,” it reads. “We are also hopeful that the current case trends do not continue, and the fall and winter are not as dire as we predict they could be. However, as public officials tasked with shepherding our communities through this ongoing crisis, we cannot sit back and hope. We must consider the implications of policy decisions made at all levels of government and do our best to avoid catastrophic unintended consequences of even the most well-intentioned policy.”
Co-signors of the letter suggested an alternative.
“We import you to consider some modification of the vaccine requirement for healthcare workers currently scheduled to go into effect September 27, 2021,” the letter states. “Allowing for a weekly, or more frequent, testing alternative to vaccination would seem to be a reasonable option that would respect the personal health decisions of healthcare workers while protecting, to the greatest extent practicable, the safety of patients and their families.”
“We understand the complexity of this issue and the need to increase vaccination rates among the entire population and certain critical workforce sectors,” the letter continues. “While these are laudable goals that we support, we cannot continue on a path that threatens the very viability of our entire healthcare system in the pursuit of these goals. We have to work collaboratively at all levels of government to come up with creative solutions that can help achieve our goals for protecting public health, preserving the capacity of our healthcare system, and helping our communities navigate these perilous times.”