The Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) has provided an update on staffing and service line adjustments following the deadline for the New York State COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Monday, September 27, 2021.
The Impact of the Vaccine Mandate on Staffing
MVHS, like hospitals across the state and the nation, has experienced significant and growing workforce shortages and challenges in both clinical and non-clinical areas. The New York State mandate for all healthcare workers to be vaccinated has further impacted staffing for healthcare organizations.
“As a healthcare organization, MVHS supports vaccines for COVID as a significant safety tool for our employees, our patients and our community,” said Darlene Stromstad, FACHE, president/CEO of MVHS. “However, we also recognize that our employees have the freedom to choose whether or not to get the vaccine. As a result of the mandate, 180 employees have separated from MVHS which brings our vacancy rate to 17.5 percent. Prior to the mandate, our vacancy rate was already 13.7 percent.”
Several significant issues are currently converging on the healthcare industry: a rise in COVID cases, a general increase in hospitalizations and patient acuity and a high employee vacancy rate prior to the vaccine mandate. The high vacancy rate is the result of several factors: an increase in retirements, employees leaving healthcare due to the pandemic, burnout and the attraction to higher-paying traveling positions.
“I am extremely proud of all of our employees who have been vaccinated as it shows their commitment to not only their coworkers, our patients and the organization, but to our community as a whole,” said Stromstad. “Six weeks ago our vaccination rate was about 70 percent. Today, more than 95 percent of our employees are in compliance with the mandate. And while that may sound positive, it does however mean that 180 employees – nearly 5 percent – have chosen to leave our work force.”
What MVHS is Doing
MVHS is continuing to encourage employees who have not been vaccinated to reconsider getting a vaccine. Employees who have not been vaccinated have been placed on an unpaid leave of absence as of today, September 28, 2021, until Saturday, October 9, 2021. If they return vaccinated by Saturday, October 9, they will maintain their position and seniority. If an employee does not show proof of a vaccination by Saturday, October 9, they will be separated from employment. Their health benefits will continue until the end of the month.
Additionally, MVHS is granting an employee “reinstatement” period for 21 days, from Saturday, October 9 until Thursday, October 28. If a terminated employee is vaccinated and shows proof of the vaccine or an approved exemption during this time, they may return to work and will be able to return to their former position or comparable role, if available, and resume all benefits.
A plan of operation for all services at MVHS has been developed in light of employee losses.
“We are pleased that we will be able to continue all hospital-based services at both the St. Luke’s and St. Elizabeth Campuses,” said Stromstad. “However, it is important to note that the community should expect longer wait times, phones that are not answered as quickly, delays in turnaround time and disruptions to services. In fact, the EDs at both hospitals are already experiencing increased capacity. Therefore, while we don’t want the community to delay necessary care, it is strongly encouraged to seek care for issues that can be handled by a primary care physician or an Urgent Care center at one of those locations first.
“We’re asking for our community members, patients and patient families to be patient with our employees who are now working harder than ever.”
Here is what the community should know related to MVHS services going forward:
- Hospital services at both campuses will continue operating – Medical Surgical, Intensive Care, Intermediate Care and Maternity units as well as Emergency Departments (ED). However, MVHS has been and expects to continue to experience higher-than-average volumes in the EDs so patients may experience longer wait times for routine care. MVHS continues to work with other regional hospitals to address capacity issues as they arise.
- Elective surgery. Surgeries will continue at both hospitals, with some limited capacity.
- Ancillary services for hospital patients. Patients and patient rooms/areas are the key priorities for ancillary services such as food and nutrition and housekeeping. Other, non-clinical areas will experience delays and decrease level of services. For example, deli services in the cafeteria have been paused so those workers can provide support and assistance in making and delivering food to patients.
- Outpatient imaging services (X-ray, CT scan, etc.). All sites will continue running, however there may be longer waiting times for some diagnostic testing due to reduced capacity.
- Sleep Center. At this time, the office will remain open to provide care and services to already established patients, but will not be able to accept new patients.
- Laboratories. Services at one lab site in the community, 86 Genesee Street, will be temporarily paused. Additionally, hours are being reduced at the lab located at the St. Elizabeth Campus; the new hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Dialysis. All current patients will continue their treatment, but services will be consolidated at specific locations with some different hours. Impacted patients have been notified.
- Transportation. There may be some delays in and the inability to transport patients through Senior Network Health.
- Long-Term Care. The MVHS Rehabilitation and Nursing Center is not accepting new residents at this time.
As services and hours of services will continue to change, MVHS has established a service line, 315-624-4124, to provide updates to our community. Any updates or changes to our services can also be found on our website, mvhealthsystem.org.