Hospitals fear staffing shortages as vaccine deadlines loom

As state deadlines approach for COVID-19 vaccinations, hospitals and nursing homes across the U.S. fear that staff shortages will worsen.

Hospitals fear staffing shortages as vaccine deadlines loom

There are some concerns that employees may quit, fire or suspend themselves rather than getting the vaccine, as ultimatums go into effect in New York, California and Rhode Island this week.

We don't know how this will play out. We are worried about how it will worsen an already very serious staffing problem," Jan Emerson-Shea spokesperson for California Hospital Association said, adding that the association "absolutely" supports the state’s vaccination requirement.

New York's health care workers had until Monday night to receive at least one dose. However, some hospitals have already started suspending or taking other actions against those who are not satisfied.

Erie County Medical Center Corp. of Buffalo stated that about 5% of its hospital staff have been placed on unpaid leave due to not having been vaccinated. The nursing home has 20% staff. Northwell Health, the largest provider of state-owned health care, stated that it is removing unvaccinated employees from its system. However, it claimed that its workforce is almost 100% vaccinated.

New York Governor: "To all those who haven't yet made that decision, please do so." Kathy Hochul stated.

New York hospitals had prepared contingency plans, which included limiting admissions to nursing homes and cutting down on non-critical services. The governor also created plans to call on National Guard members who have been trained in medical care, retired or are vaccinated from the outside.

A dozen states have mandated vaccinations for health care workers at hospitals and long-term care facilities. Some states allow exemptions for religious or medical reasons, but these employees must still submit to COVID-19 testing.

States with such requirements tend have high vaccination rates. The Northeast has the highest vaccination rates, while the South and Midwest have the lowest.

A rule that is still being developed by the Biden administration will also require nearly 17 million people who work in health facilities that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid to get fully vaccinated.

This has concerned some hospital officials, especially in rural areas where vaccination rates are lower.

Troy Bruntz is the president and CEO of Community Hospital McCook in Nebraska.

He stated that 25 of the hospital’s 330 employees would resign if required to get vaccinated. The remaining 100 employees, which includes both nurses and cleaning and maintenance staff, are still unvaccinated.

He is also concerned that it will prove difficult to hire workers in a hospital already understaffed.

He said, "It doesn’t make us feel too sure that this won’t turn into something less than a nightmare for American healthcare,"

Many nursing homes and hospitals are already experiencing staff shortages as many nurses have left the profession due to pandemic-related burnout, or because they have found lucrative work elsewhere.

Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary, noted that Maine and Houston hospitals lost a small number of staff recently due to mandated vaccinations.

"We are seeing it in many places. It's working. Psaki stated that it creates more certainty and protection for their workforces.

Emerson-Shea stated that California's health care workers are required to be fully vaccinated by Thursday. Some hospitals anticipate firings, suspensions and the relocation of employees to other positions. Due to California's vaccination requirement, many nurses who travel have turned down assignments in California.

However, the statewide mandate will mean that health workers can't just quit their jobs to go to other hospitals. Dr. Jeff Smith is the CEO and executive vice-president of hospital operations at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles.

He anticipates that approximately 97 percent of Cedars-Sinai’s nearly 17,000 employees who are affected by the vaccine mandate, will comply with the deadline. Another 1% have applied for religious or medical exemptions. He said that those who fail to comply by Friday will be fired on October 8 if they haven't met the requirements or there aren't extenuating circumstances.

In the last month, the hospital was able to hire more than 100 nurses and also employs some travel nurses.

Smith stated that while we are in a good position, Smith doesn't want to ignore the potential challenges that other hospitals may face.

The state of Rhode Island has allowed unvaccinated employees to work for 30 days beyond the deadline in instances where they would be a danger to patient safety. Because it does not allow religious exemptions, the mandate is being challenged in court.

Some hospitals in states without mandates are imposing their own.

Ginger Robertson is a registered nurse working in a mental clinic at Bismarck's hospital. She has asked for a religious exemption from the hospital's vaccination requirements. She stated that she would look for work elsewhere if she does not get the exemption.

"Honestly, my job is something I love. It is a rewarding job. I enjoy my patients. She said that she enjoys where she is at the moment. "This is a difficult place to be in, because I have to make a choice between two things that I don't like. I don’t want the vaccine and I don’t want to leave.

She stated that other nurses may also be considering quitting due to the "insulting mandate".

Robertson stated, "We feel demoralized. It's almost as if we don't have the intelligence to make these decisions for ourselves."

North Carolina's hospital system, based in North Carolina, announced Monday that it had fired more than 175 employees for not complying with COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

Novant Health last week announced that 375 workers were being suspended and gave them five days to comply. Megan Rivers, spokesperson for Novant Health, stated that nearly 200 workers did so -- even those who had submitted exemptions -- before Friday's deadline.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker issued Massachusetts' mandate. Charlie Baker applies only to assisted living facilities, rest homes, hospice programs, and home care programs. This allows for religious and medical exemptions, but does not require regular testing. October 31 is the deadline.

On Monday, Connecticut implemented a mandate for vaccines for state-run hospitals. Private hospitals are exempted from the mandate, as some have their own requirements. It is possible to apply for medical and religious exemptions, but any person who does not get vaccinated will be banned from the workplace.

According to state data, 84% of the over 450,000 New York hospital workers were fully vaccinated by Wednesday. According to data from nursing homes, 89% of those who worked in them were fully vaccinated as of Sunday.

New York City's hospital system reported an 95% rate of vaccination for nurses, and a higher rate in doctors.

Missouri has become a serious COVID-19 hotspot over the summer. The Mercy hospital system will require that all staff members at its many medical centers and clinics throughout Missouri and the surrounding states are vaccinated by Thursday.

Bethany Pope, Mercy spokeswoman, stated that anyone who fails to comply will be placed on a 30-day suspension without pay.

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