The pending deadline for health care workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of this month is leading to concerns among upstate officials at the state and local level that the requirement will lead to a spike in resignations among critical staff in a critical sector.
"Some of them have just burned out. They've gone on to less stressful settings or maybe health care settings that are less stressful," said Ontario County Administrator Chris DeBolt.
DeBolt was among 10 county leaders in the Finger Lakes region who wrote a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul last week urging her to compromise on the vaccine mandate — potentially by allowing for weekly testing of unvaccinated workers.
"As many people who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated, but given this what we're seeing in the health care staff, is there another option or compromise?" DeBolt said.
The mandate for health care workers comes as New York officials seek to contain the spread of the virus once again as the highly contagious delta variant has led to increased hospitalizations. Vaccinations are considered the best defense against serious illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19.
Boosting vaccinatins among health care workers is considered key for ensuring hospital systems, health care networks and other critical points of care do not fail during the crisis. But some health care workers have pushed back, with some resigning and others promising to do so once the vaccine rule takes effect on Sept. 27.
Overall, 73% of New York adults have completed the vaccine series.
On Wednesday, Hochul indicated she was open to a potential change, including allowing in some circumstances workers to be tested for COVID-19.
"There may be very narrow accomodations to be made, but I believe overall we have to make sure that are our health care workers are vaccinated," Hochul said on Wednesday in a news conference. "Testing can be option, but I also want to make sure they know they have to be vaccinated."
Even before the pandemic, rural areas in upstate New York struggled to attract health care workers. Assemblywoman Majorie Byrnes is concerned the vaccine mandate could reach a tipping point for some communities.
"If we lose any more workers then we're going to have a crisis in being able to care for people in our communities," Bynes said.
Byrnes is especially worried health care workers who provide services for people who live in nursing homes, or care to people who are homebound, will quit instead of getting the vaccine.
"Then they make go without services that they dramatically need," she said, "and that may place an additional burden on our counties and our state."