This week, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that hospitals in the Finger Lakes, Central New York and Mohawk Valley would have to halt elective procedures because regionally, the hospitals have exceeded 90% of their capacity.  

Yet, as the Empire Center’s Bill Hammond pointed out in a recent column, upstate’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have been lower compared to those in New York City, where elective surgeries have not been halted.

Bea Grause, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State, told Capital Tonight that the problem is indeed a workforce shortage, but it’s one that has grown out of a number of factors, only one of which is the vaccine mandate.

“As a registered nurse, I consider [the shortage] to be both acute and chronic,” Grause said. “It’s chronic in the sense that we have an aging population and our workforce is aging right along with the grain of our population.”

Because of that, thousands of health care workers have retired.

“It’s acute in the sense that our health care workforce is exhausted and burned out and many have left, across the nation,” Grause continued. “So, we have lost health care workers who have chosen to move to other professions or retire early.”

While the vaccine mandate is one contributing factor to the workforce shortage, Grause is a vaccine supporter because, she explains, if you’re vaccinated and boosted, you may still contract COVID-19, but you won’t get as sick. 

“The data is overwhelmingly supportive so, yes, I think to protect your family, to protect your co-workers, people should get vaccinated, they should get boosted,” Grause said.

Like others in her field, Grause is asking Gov. Hochul for flexibility when it comes to the vaccine booster mandate. She doesn’t want to lose any more workers during what she called the “crunch of omicron."

Gov. Hochul’s budget address is expected to be released by Tuesday. Grause told Capital Tonight the industry’s top priorities include supporting the health care workforce and increasing Medicaid rates, which haven’t been increased in 12 years.  

Grause said she’s hopeful the budget will contain investments to help in the short term as well as the long term, specifically regarding replenishing the workforce, retaining healthcare workers and making sure the educational pipeline is expansive enough to rebuild the workforce.