09/15/2021 / By Mary Villareal
Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville will no longer have the capacity to deliver babies after six employees in the maternity ward resigned instead of taking a COVID-19 vaccine as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order several weeks ago.
The hospital has said that it will work with state officials to make sure that the maternity unit does not shut down permanently. Six employees employed in the unit have resigned, while seven others who are not vaccinated remain undecided, said Officer Gerald Cayer, Lewis County Health System Chief Executive Officer.
The staffing shortage resulted in the hospital’s incapacity to deliver newborns. “If we can pause the service and now focus on recruiting nurses who are vaccinated, we will be able to reengage in delivering babies here in Lewis County,” Cayer said in a conference.
There are still around 165 hospital employees who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19. This is about 27 percent of the total workforce.
The hospital is already short-staffed as it is, and it took a significant hit after the resignation of its employees. Officials cannot adequately staff the maternity department and newborn nursery: the unit nurse manager was already working shifts as a staff nurse. Patients will also have to rely on other facilities for maternity and postpartum care.
Contingency plans are also in place. These include reassigning nurses from administration roles to clinical functions, among others.
Cayer hoped that the number of vaccinated individuals will increase as the deadline for inoculation looms. He also hoped that fewer employees will leave, and some of those who have resigned will consider.
Employees who resign or are terminated over their vaccination status will not be eligible for unemployment benefits. The hospital staff shortages were an issue even before the pandemic started, so now he wants to focus on recruitment.
“If we can pause the service and now focus on recruiting nurses who are vaccinated, we will be able to reengage in delivering babies here in Lewis County,” he said. (Related:NYC restaurants REFUSE to enforce vaccine passport mandate and become “vaccination police.”)
In August, Cuomo issued an order that all health care workers in New York state must get their first COVID-19 vaccine shot by September 27. Last week, President Joe Biden also issued an announcement that said healthcare workers at facilities that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding have to get vaccinated, with no exceptions. Officials estimate that around 50,000 employees would be affected by the mandate.
Hospitals in other parts of the U.S. also demonstrated against the recent vaccine mandates; however, Cayer said that he supports the mandate for health care workers and other employees. He shared that the mandates ensure a healthy workforce, and that they will not be responsible for the transmission of COVID-19 in or out of facilities.
Biden’s announcement also targeted millions of workers who are employed at companies with 100 workers or more, as mandates say that these employees have to either get their vaccines or be tested weekly for the virus. Few details have been released about how the mandates will be enforced, although some officials said harsh fines may be imposed.
The vast majority of workers in the health system have complied with the vaccination mandate. Unfortunately, the resignations have taken place in a region with staffing shortages; there is a lack of experienced maternity nursing staff throughout upstate New York.
Thousands of open nursing positions still remain, however, Cayer said that those who resigned, but changes their mind will be welcomed back.
Lewis County is among the least populous and most politically conservative counties in the state. It also has one of the lowest COVID vaccination rates with only 44 percent full vaccinations, compared to 61 percent statewide.
Health care facilities have been affected by the vaccine mandate. The pandemic has already exacerbated staffing shortages at medical facilities in the United States and hospitals have offered incentives to get workers to keep their jobs or encourage applications during the pandemic, such as offering sign-on bonuses.
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