MALONE — The University of Vermont Health Network on Tuesday reported the impact of New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on three area hospitals.
Hospitals in Franklin, Clinton and Essex counties are part of the Vermont-based health network, including Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, and Elizabethtown Community Hospital in Essex County.
Malone’s hospital reported that 16 employees had left Alice Hyde due to the state’s vaccine mandate, while 12 employees at Plattsburgh’s hospital were terminated due to their vaccine status, and two employees at the hospital in Elizabethtown resigned, according to the health network’s website.
New York’s coronavirus vaccination mandate for health care workers, announced by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August, went into effect Monday.
As of Tuesday, 93% of Alice Hyde employees have received at least one shot of the vaccine, with 95% of CVPH staff and 96% of Elizabethtown employees also receiving at least one shot.
A total of 55 employees have left CVPH or reduced their hours on a voluntary basis for a variety of reason since the mandate for health care workers was announced, according to the health network’s website.
“What we are seeing is that some of our staff have opted to end their career in health care, and have resigned, or if they can, retired,” Alice Hyde and CVPH President Michelle LeBeau said in a news release.
LeBeau said the state mandate has brought longstanding health care staffing shortages into sharper focus.
“It’s been a tough 18 months for all of us and I’m sure it was a difficult decision and one we have to respect,” LeBeau said.
Both Alice Hyde and CVPH have recruited traveling nurses to fill scheduling gaps, with the emergency room and inpatient care units in Plattsburgh reporting having been at or near capacity for the past few weeks, according to the health network’s website.
In Malone, admissions to Alice Hyde’s long-term care facility, The Alice Center, are being closely monitored to ensure proper staffing levels are maintained.
“I’m incredibly proud of our people and the work they do each day under very challenging conditions,” Alice Hyde’s Chief Operating Officer Matt Jones said, “From the beginning, this pandemic has challenged health care organizations like ours to think and work differently in order to care for our communities.”
Alice Hyde reopened its Intermediate Care Unit on Monday, after a temporary closure last week so staff members could support the hospital’s surgical unit and emergency department.
Both the surgical unit and emergency department have seen high patient volumes due to the recent surge of COVID-19 caused by the prevalence of the more contagious delta variant across the north country, according to the health network’s website.
“Our teams are doing all they can every day to be sure their patients get the care they need,” LeBeau said, “The national workforce shortage has hit our industry hard and we’re adjusting to fewer staff at a time when our patient volume is high.”
“Hospitals across the region are also struggling,” she said. “They also have too few staff, not enough available beds and many patients needing care.”
The health network’s website reiterated the organization’s commitment to COVID-19 vaccines, describing vaccination as the best way to protect patients and employees from the virus.
Since Sept. 23, more than 300 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported by the health departments in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin counties.
As of Tuesday, Alice Hyde was caring for 11 COVID-19 patients. CVPH reported 24 COVID-19 patients, and Elizabethtown, a critical access hospital without an intensive care unit, reported one.