COVID booster mandate looming for New York healthcare workers

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — There is a looming deadline that already-stretched hospitals and nursing homes are worried might make staffing shortages even worse.

The New York State Department of Health notified facilities that the booster mandate for all health care workers will take effect on Monday, Feb. 21.

Covered health care workers who were previously required to get the COVID-19 vaccination must also now receive a booster dose within two weeks of becoming eligible unless they have a valid medical exemption. There is no test-out option.

Both Rochester Regional Health and UR Medicine lost hundreds of employees each when the vaccine mandate went into effect last year.

“The majority of our staff is boosted,” said Strong Memorial Hospital Vice President Kathy Parrinello.

She couldn’t provide specific numbers on how many aren’t or will be impacted on Monday.

“We are still analyzing all our data because if you’ll recall many individuals are not yet eligible for booster… not everyone will be eligible and some may have temporary exemptions due to having had COVID so, the date isn’t as hard and fast as certainly, we experienced last fall,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Rochester Regional Health did not return messages requesting information about how many employees are currently not boosted and what the plan is to handle any issues the mandate may create.

The deadline is coming at a difficult time for Strong Hospital. A FEMA medical team of 40 Air Force doctors, nurses and medical technicians was deployed to Strong to help ease staffing shortages. All the while, the demand for services continues to grow.

“We are licensed for 866 beds, we frequently have over 900 patients,” Parrinello said.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health tells News10NBC, “The New York State Department of Health continues to work with healthcare facilities to encourage covered personnel to get booster doses when eligible, in accordance with the emergency regulation. It is important to note that not all fully vaccinated staff members are five months past their second shot and therefore, only a portion are eligible for boosters.”

Strong said it is continuing its recruitment efforts for more permanent help.

“We have a number of people, particularly nurses that graduated in December that will be starting or have started and are in orientation so we continue to try and shore up our numbers of staff that we have,” Parrinello said.