New York’s Vaccine Mandate Raises Questions For Healthcare Workers

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ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) – Jada Vargas works as a patient care technician at Unity Hospital. 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 COVID-19 vaccine by the September 27th deadline or be non-compliant with state-issued mandate.

A sign points the way to get COVID-19 vaccines at the New York State Fairgrounds vaccination site in Syracuse, New York, on Feb. 7, 2021. CREDIT DENISE YOUNG / WXXI NEWS

She said she feels neutral about the state mandate that was issued earlier this week, but is hoping Unity will offer weekly COVID-19 testing as an alternative.

The mandate raises questions for healthcare providers who are still awaiting guidance from the state health department.

Keith Chambery is the executive director of Genesee Health Facilities Association. The organization represents residents and health care 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.

68%of the state’s nursing home workers are vaccinated.

Chambrey says that number is low compared to residents whose vaccination rate average is near 90%.

Some local healthcare facilities that already had their own mandate say 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 the 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 says 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.