Healthcare vaccine mandate deadline is here

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The state’s vaccine mandate will take effect at 12 a.m. Tuesday.

That means healthcare workers who don’t have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine face losing their jobs.

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The mandate is expected to cause staffing issues at health care facilities across the state, including here in Rochester. Strong Memorial Hospital has already issued a two-week pause on elective surgeries starting Monday in anticipation of the shortage. University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health have also changed hours at several area labs in anticipation.

Thousands of workers have protested against the mandate, saying it’s up to them whether to get vaccinated.

A federal judge ordered a temporary restraining order earlier this month, allowing employees to file for religious exemptions, at least until Oct. 12.

During a press conference Monday morning, Hochul was asked how many people she expects she will need to replace, and what makes her think she can find enough people who want to replace them.

"How we think we’re going to find enough of them: I also know that the state might have to supplement pay for people, bring people from out of state and elsewhere to entice them, there’s no doubt in my mind that that’s going to have to be the case as we bring people from elsewhere," Hochul said. "Do I think that there will be people vaccinated today? I have no doubt. I’ve already heard that from practitioners and hospitals who’ve told me there’s been an increase in the number of people getting vaccinated, so I don’t have those numbers right now to know the exact percentage of people out of the workforce that we’re going to need to be replacing, so it’s an evolving situation. I’m not going to be able to give you the answers I’d like to give you until we know exactly what happens tonight, what happens tomorrow. Some hospitals are saying that they’re making some accommodations if someone is claiming a religious exemption, but they’re also going to not let them do that. They’re not going to let them work until — they say they want to see what’s going to happen with the court case as well — I feel very confident about our chances in court, just going back to 1905, the Supreme Court case that said communities have a right to self-defense, we have a right to defend our people against a global pandemic and we’re entitled to take all means necessary to do that. And that’s what I’m going to do. This is all about self-defense. I’m here to defend the people of New York. Thank you very much, everyone."

You can watch the full press conference in the video in the player below (mobile users, click here):

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In a statement released Monday morning, UR Medicine announced 97.5% of clinical employees at Strong "remained eligible to continue working". That number includes both clinical employees with one dose of the vaccine and those with religious exemptions.

As for Rochester Regional Health, they are nearing 99% compliance.

“Per the New York State COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare workers, Rochester Regional Health is currently nearing 99% compliance. This percentage includes individuals who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, or have been granted religious or medical exemptions. Rochester Regional Health is proud of all of its employees for their hard work and dedication in keeping the community safe through the pandemic and beyond. We remain committed to serving the community and taking care of all individuals who seek care. “

Gov. Kathy Hochul Sunday said that she believed religious beliefs shouldn’t be an exemption and that God wants you to be vaccinated.

"Yes. I know you’re vaccinated," Hochul said. "They’re the smart ones, but you know, there’s people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants. You know, this, you know who they are. I need you to be my apostles. I need you to go out and talk about it and say, we owe this to each other. We love each other. Jesus taught us to love one another. And how do you show that love, but to care about each other enough to say, please get vaccinated because I love you. I want you to live."

While Hochul said the mandate is necessary to keep vulnerable people safe, some healthcare employees tell us they believe it has the opposite effect.

"Kathy Hochul has no idea what’s going on in this institution, but we’ve been working short for over two years," said Nina Fronczak, a registered nurse at Rochester Regional Health. "You’re going to pull people from other hospitals and deploy the National Guard, you’re not going to fix the problem, and unfortunately even now before we’ve hit the deadline there are so many floors that are short-staffed that it’s scary."

Hochul said she is monitoring staffing shortages closely and will sign an executive order declaring a state of emergency in an effort to increase the workforce supply if necessary.

The Department of Labor said workers who are terminated because of refusal to be vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment insurance unless they have a valid doctor-approved request for medical accommodation.