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State vaccine mandate raises questions for healthcare workers and employers

A vaccine shot being given
Rogelio V. Solis
Associated Press

Jada Vargas works as a patient care technician at Unity Hospital in Rochester. Vargas spent much of last year working on a COVID unit and is still very hesitant to get the vaccine.

“We literally created a vaccine within a year, and that’s like unheard of, said Vargas. “The fact that it’s new, played a role in me not wanting to get the vaccine.”

Vargas is among thousands of unvaccinated healthcare workers who will have to decide to get the vaccine by the Sept. 27 deadline or be non-compliant with the state-issued mandate.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all health care workers — including hospital staff and those working at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and adult care — are required to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27, after which they won’t be allowed to work at their respective facilities.

Vargas said she feels neutral about the state mandate, but is hoping Unity will offer weekly COVID testing as an alternative.

The mandate raises questions for healthcare providers who are still awaiting guidance from the state health department. The department will issue orders that require all healthcare facilities to implement a policy mandating employees to get vaccinated, with exceptions to those with religious or medical reasons.

Keith Chambery is the executive director of Genesee Health Facilities Association. The organization represents residents and healthcare professionals of 37 facilities in Western New York.

Like Vargas, Chambery said the administrators at the facilities he represents are hoping their workers will be given the same guidance as healthcare workers employed by the state.

“State workers can either take the vaccine or they be tested on a frequent basis. And we’re suspecting that may be the case with this mandate. But it would be unlikely that state workers would have different protocols than private or public facilities would,” said Chambery.

Chambery adds that not having the testing as an option for unvaccinated employees could affect staffing at nursing homes that are already strained for resources.

“There will be those who decide that they just can’t get vaccinated or they won’t be vaccinated and the facilities are already struggling with staffing as most businesses are,” said Chambery.

Only 68%of the state’s nursing home workers are vaccinated. Chambrey said that number is low compared to residents, whose vaccination rate average is near 90%.

Some local healthcare facilities that already have their own mandate said the new state directive is in the best interest of their patients.

Michael Perrotta is the Vice President of Friendly Home. The nursing home implemented their own vaccine mandate in late July.

Perrotta said Friendly Home recognizes that getting vaccinated is a personal decision for employees, but with the Delta variant of the coronavirus on the rise a mandate was necessary.

“From our standpoint as a healthcare provider, we just felt it was the right thing to do and the families are very grateful that we made the decision,” said Perrotta.

He said only three unvaccinated employees have left the Friendly Home since implementing the mandate, but the majority of their unvaccinated employees have been receptive.

Perrotta said they’re providing additional support and resources for employees who are still on the fence.