ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — University of Rochester Medical Center officials announced some changes coming to the hospital system due to an ongoing staffing shortage — a shortage that officials say is not related to the looming deadline for New York health care workers to be vaccinated.

Among the changes, UR Medicine Labs will close some patient service centers temporarily, Strong Memorial Hospital will close hospital beds in several units, and Highland Hospital will postpone a “small number” of scheduled elective procedures beginning Monday, September 20.

The state’s vaccine mandate requires all health care professionals to be vaccinated by Monday, September 27. If health care workers do not have at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, they could lose their job.

“This deadline has been known for many months,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a Thursday coronavirus briefing. “Our expectations is that all health workers in the state of New York will be vaccinated by Monday.”

Once the mandate going into effect, officials say URMC may temporarily close UR Medicine Urgent Care in Farmington and introduce a two-week pause in scheduling new elective procedures at Strong beginning September 27. Additionally, the UR Medicine Urgent Care in Spencerport temporarily closed this week as the hospital system navigates contingency plans based on “best and worse-case scenarios.”

According to vaccination data released by UR Medicine, 91% of all employees across the six URMC facilities were partially or fully vaccinated as of September 20.

According to URMC Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Apostolakos, the staffing shortage isn’t related to the mandate. He says hospitals in the Finger Lakes and nationally already face staffing shortages because of rising demand for clinical services, some health workers retiring or choosing other employment after 18 months of COVID stress, and fewer recruits choosing health care over other career options. 

“UR Medicine has been recruiting aggressively for months to fill vacant positions, and we will intensify those efforts as the mandate takes effect until our hospitals are fully staffed,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “In the meantime, we will share resources as a system, taking steps such as temporarily sharing staff between hospitals as needed to minimize impacts on patient care.”

Patients at URMC hospitals may face longer waiting times for appointments as new contingency plans based on vacancy levels are currently being worked on, officials say. Meanwhile, health leaders say vaccination remains the best way out of this pandemic.

“Medical professionals know that vaccination is the most powerful tool we have to keep ourselves, our families and the community safe,” URMC’s Chief Medical Officer Michael Apostolakos said. “More people being vaccinated means fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths.”

Vaccination Rates at URMC:

UR Medicine Hospital% Professional Medical Staff Vaccinated*% All Hospital Employees Vaccinated**
Strong Memorial99%92%
F.F. Thompson99%90%
Noyes Memorial98%85%
Jones Memorial100%80%
St. James100%90%