OSWEGO — Time ran out Monday for unvaccinated health care workers as the state Department of Health’s mandate went into effect, requiring all health care workers in New York to at least begin a COVID-19 vaccination series, or face termination.
The state Department of Health (DOH) mandate impacts hospitals, nursing homes and adult care facilities across the Empire State, and left unvaccinated health care workers wondering if they’d be let go as the Sept. 27 deadline expired. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who’s been vocal on the issue since taking office, said in a press release workers knew the deadline was coming, and implemented a number of initiatives aimed at alleviating potential staffing shortages.
“People have known for quite some time this was the requirement,” Hochul said. “I’ve made it loud and clear over my four weeks in office I was not going to change my position because I’m charged with protecting the health of all New Yorkers.”
Oswego County was not immune to the vaccination mandate, with the DOH website as of Tuesday listing the hospital worker vaccination rate as 87 percent.
Oswego Health Senior Director of Communications Jamie Leszczynski said, much like all healthcare institutions in New York state, the organization lost employees who made the difficult decision to leave the industry completely rather than meet the state’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
While Oswego Health notes the total tally is “moving numbers” due to weekly new hires, officials said as of Tuesday, 31 of 1,246 employees left their roles at the organization due to non-compliance with the state’s vaccine mandate, and another 47 employees throughout the health care system are pending, citing religious exemptions.
Hospitals across the region reported similar staff losses, with some shuttering operating rooms and cutting back on services. Cancelations of elective surgeries and other procedures were common across the state, with Oswego Health reporting it has been forced to scale back on some non-life threatening operations.
“At this time, we have limited elective cases that require an inpatient bed and cut block times essentially in half using an every other week model based on staffing,” Leszczynski said.
The plan Hochul released Monday, includes a number of measures aimed at addressing potential staffing shortages in hospitals and other health care facilities statewide.
“We have a plan to increase our health care workforce and help alleviate the burdens on our hospitals and other health care facilities,” the governor said.
The plan includes preparing an emergency declaration to supplement workforce at health care facilities, in addition to enabling qualified health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates and retired health care workers.
The state’s plan also includes the potential deployment of medically trained National Guard.
State Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, and fellow Republicans on Tuesday called on Hochul to delay the deadline for the state’s vaccination requirement for healthcare workers. In a letter addressed to Hochul, Barclay warned of service cuts and compromised patient care as “only the beginning.”
Barclay said weeks ago he and his Republican colleagues urged Gov. Hochul and DOH to reconsider the vaccine mandate, expressing concern it would “quickly diminish the level of care in the New York healthcare industry, particularly during the ongoing pandemic.”
As of Sept. 26, more than 2,300 individuals statewide were hospitalized with COVID-19 complications, including 564 in intensive care units, according to DOH data. Across the state’s Central New York Region, DOH figures show 152 coronavirus-related hospitalizations, including 49 in intensive care units.
DOH reports 24 percent of central New York hospital beds available as of Tuesday, with roughly 10 percent of intensive care unit beds open.
In Oswego County, more than 10,500 COVID-19 cases have been recorded since March 2020. There are currently more than 500 active cases in the county.