WATERTOWN — On Sept. 27, the state vaccination mandate for health care workers took effect. All health care workers in New York state at hospitals and nursing homes were required to be vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by this date, save for those with accommodations for medical or religious exemptions.
Employees who refused to be vaccinated were placed on administrative leave for two weeks, to be terminated at the end of that time if they continued to refuse vaccination or failed to receive an exemption.
The time came for termination Monday for 28 Samaritan Health employees who still refused to be vaccinated and either did not apply for exemptions in the first place or were not approved for one.
“Obviously losing one is not good for anyone,” said Leslie M. DiStefano, director of communication and public relations. “It’s a local and national worker shortage in many areas beyond just health care, but at this point we have to abide by the mandate, and this is where we find ourselves.”
She noted that the number of those not in compliance with the mandate has changed a lot in the last few days, so Samaritan is hoping some of the employees will eventually get the vaccine and come back to work. The current termination breakdown is as follows: 16 employees from Samaritan Medical Center, six from Samaritan Keep Home and six from Samaritan Summit Village.
The state’s labor department previously clarified that workers who are terminated because they refuse to be vaccinated will not be eligible for unemployment insurance without a valid doctor-approved request for medical accommodation.
With those who have received exemptions, they will be mandated to have weekly COVID testing just as long-term care facilities have been doing from the state mandates they’ve had. Mandatory face mask use remains in place for all staff and, in addition, Samaritan also has mandatory eye protection, so all staff members should be wearing eye protection, especially when dealing with patients, to keep an extra layer of safety between themselves and patients.
Samaritan, like hospital systems and nursing homes across the state, encouraged employees to get vaccinated and prepared for disruptions if they did not. Two weeks ago, Samaritan was still estimating it would lose anywhere from 50 to 100 staff members in total.
“I think it just reiterates what we’ve said all along,” Ms. DiStefano said. “We really respect individual choice, we’ve done as much as we can to educate our staff to really work with them.”