Mass exodus? Local hospitals, nursing homes prepare as vaccine deadline looms

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Local nursing homes and hospitals are facing a lot of stress as the state vaccine mandate for healthcare workers goes into effect in just five days. 

On September 27th, most health care workers will have to have at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine or they could lose their job. 

The mandate could affect a lot of hospitals and long-term care facilities in Monroe County that still have a sizable number of staff members not vaccinated. 

“I’m really fearful that we could see 20% of the workforce leave hospitals or long term care,” said Ann Marie Cook, the President and CEO of Lifespan. “We could see a massive exodus of workers in the short term.”

According to state data, 19% of staff members at adult care facilities in Monroe County have yet to be fully vaccinated. At skilled nursing facilities, 18% of workers still need to get both shots by the end of the month. 

“I feel like we’re in a pending crisis and we have to think about this and figure out a way how we’re going to care for people,” Cook said. 

Some area nursing homes still have around 40% of workers that haven’t been vaccinated. According to state data, this includes places like Woodside Manor Nursing Home Inc., Wedgewood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Latta Road Nursing home West, and Hamilton Manor Nursing Home. 

“I have been hearing rumors that a lot of those facilities have stopped taking admissions now to prepare for the fact that may be, you know, 40% of their workforce, hopefully less, will leave the facility,” Cook said. 

Cook said with places not taking new patients, she worries about those who need care down the road.

“Many older adults once they go into hospital need a rehab stay before they can go home. If some of the long term care facilities aren’t accepting new admissions, how will older adults go home safely without rehabilitation? Because long term care just doesn’t have the staff to care for them. It’s one of those terrible problems where it’s nobody’s fault. But the solutions are not easy to figure out,” Cook said. 

Nursing homes won’t be the only entities impacted by staffing shortages. Hospitals are expected to as well.

As of September 14th, Monroe County Hospitals had the following percentage of staff fully-vaccinated against COVID-19. 

  • Highland Hospital – 84%
  • Rochester General Hospital – 84%
  • Strong Memorial Hospital – 88%
  • The Unity Hospital of Rochester – 83%
  • The Unity Hospital of Rochester – St. Mary’s Campus – 80%

Healthcare workers with Strong Memorial Hospital say they have been having conversations with coworkers who may be hesitant to get the vaccine. 

“This is obviously a very sensitive topic… it’s very controversial, and we are not afraid of those conversations, we are willing to have those conversations and engage with those conversations, but we all need to be kind to each other right now,” said Chris Burleigh, a Nurse Manager in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Strong Memorial Hospital. 

The potential of having less staff is difficult after healthcare workers have been working tirelessly the last year-and-a-half during the pandemic. 

“We have been working continuously for 18 months. We are working under incredible stress, strain and you know, we are used to stress and strain, that is part of our job description, but this is something well outside the norm,” said Dr. Paritosh Prasad, Director of Surgical Intensive Care and the Highly Infection Disease Unit, Strong Memorial Hospital. 

Dr. Prasad and Burleigh are calling on everyone to do their part to help slow the spread and help elevate some of the stress put on frontline healthcare workers. 

“We are in a battle for our lives and all of you have the ability to help win this battle,” Dr. Prasad said. “We have the power to change how this pandemic rolls out. This is not something that is going to resolve itself without each and every one of our involvement, this is a fight every one of us is in and every one of us has a critical role to play.”

Dr. Prasad also addressed the groups who have been standing outside Strong Hospital the past few weeks to protest vaccine mandates.

“I am not going to say that leaving the hospital and seeing people protesting and yelling things at you isn’t a punch in the gut. We leave it all on the table for the patients we are taking care of,” Dr. Prasad said.

Still, with a lot of uncertainty about what the next few weeks will bring, healthcare workers say they will work together and serve patients who need care. 

“At the end of the day, we are still going to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and we are still going to take care of our patients, regardless or not, if we agree on something,” Burleigh said. 

On Tuesday, a federal judge has ordered an extension on the temporary restraining order blocking New York from forcing certain medical workers to be vaccinated, but this specifically applies for those with a religious exemption.

The order was extended until October 12th. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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