With deadline looming, unvaccinated healthcare workers consider options

[anvplayer video=”5059061″ station=”998131″]

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — On Monday, New York State will require all healthcare workers have at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, employees who refuse will be forced to resign.

Health Systems across the region are bracing for staffing shortages and planning temporary closures of some facilities and a pause on certain elective surgeries until the full effect of the looming shortage is known.

Employees have until 5 p.m. on Monday to provide proof of vaccination or file for a medical or religious exemption. A federal court will determine in October whether the religious exemption will be upheld—but those who file and are approved for one will have a stay until then.

Christina Miller works in URMC’s environmental services department.

“I’ve been here for 13 years, if it wasn’t for the mandate, it would’ve been 14… I’ve been cleaning the floors (at the medical school) but when I first started I was on the hospital side cleaning patient rooms,” she explained.

She is currently unvaccinated and tells News10NBC she does not plan to get a dose of the vaccine by Monday.

“It’s free will, I just choose not to, I don’t know, or have the knowledge about the vaccines so I just choose not to get it,” she said.

Lonnie Graham III, who is also a floor cleaner at URMC has a similar complaint.

“I believe that after being here 10 years I should have a better relationship with my employer, they should talk to me, educate me, sit me down just like you would do any health or safety standard and they didn’t do that, they just told me I got till the 27th, it’s a mandate,” he told News10NBC.

Both Miller and Graham are bracing to lose their jobs on Monday. Thousands of other employees who work in healthcare across our community are facing the same reality.

Dr. Michael Apostolkas, the Chief Medical Officer at URMC said on Thursday that religious exemption requests are already coming in and the health system expects many more over the weekend.

“We are into the hundreds that have filed for exemptions and more than 200 have had the exemptions approved but just because an exemption is approved we have to find an accommodation that keeps them in a position that they’re safe to practice or work in the hospital,” he said.

Staff members with approved exemptions can continue in patient-facing roles if they comply with a weekly testing requirement and continue using proper PPE and a daily symptom tracker.

Both URMC and Rochester Regional will be holding vaccine clinics this weekend. A spokesman for URMC tells News10NBC that supervisors are continuing to have conversations with unvaccinated employees to understand their concerns and answer their questions.

Both Miller and Graham are members of SEIU1199. URMC says the union held multiple events where 1199 members asked questions of URMC scientists and hospital leaders. Some sessions are recorded and available online so that supervisors can share and employees can review at any time.