What local health care workers, nursing home staff think of new COVID-19 vaccine mandate

August 16, 2021 — Rochester First/WROC—All health care workers in New York will soon have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

As of September 27, staff members at hospitals and long-term care facilities, like nursing homes, adult care and congregate living settings will need to be vaccinated.

Some local senior-care facilities like the Jewish Home, had already announced a vaccine mandate for employees, before the governor’s announcement Monday.

“We did feel, we still feel, like it was the right thing to do — trying to fight and protect our residents that live here and of course our employees that work here,” Michele Schirano, a Registered Nurse and Administrator at the Jewish Home said. Schirano said Jewish Senior Life made the decision to mandate vaccines after seeing how much the delta variant was spreading and impacting children.

“We do support the governor’s decision that came out today,” Schirano said. “But we wouldn’t have changed our mind and we are glad that we did make the decision and we weren’t forced to make the decision based on the governor.”

While the mandate goes into effect October 1st, the Jewish Home has already seen an increase in vaccinations among employees.

“When we first started the vaccine… we were at about 40 to 45% of our employees, now we are 80% [vaccinated]. We have moved in the right direction,” Schirano said.

Having staff fully-vaccinated is something Schirano believes can make families of residents feel safer.

“As our percentages increased with our employees, they felt much more comfortable, secure, protected, you know… that their loved one was protected,” Schirano said. “As our numbers get better, they do feel more comfortable.”

Advocates with the Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice also applaud the Governor’s announcement, although they wish the mandate took effect before the end of September.  

“It’s not just to protect the residents, it’s to protect the staff. A number of staff died from COVID-19 as well, and they want to be protected,” MaryDel Wypych, the Co-Chair of Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice said. 

Wypych says she has seen how COVID-19 has impacted nursing homes during the pandemic and she hopes a vaccine mandate will prevent some of the spread of the virus. 

“Whenever a case of COVID has come up in a nursing home, the nursing homes have to close their doors to visitation until they figure out there are no more cases and that is very detrimental to the care and wellbeing of the residents,” Wypych.

Wypych believes that when nursing homes have to close to visitors, it can affect the mental and physical well-being of residents. 

“They become very depressed, they have lost cognitive functions, meaning they are not able to communicate or take care of themselves as well, they become very isolated,” Wypych said. “It’s very important that families get in and see how their loved ones are doing and advocate for them, and they can’t do that as well if they can’t go there.”

Not everyone is in favor of vaccine mandates however, including some health care workers. Schirano believes there is a possibility that a small number of people will leave the workforce.

“People may leave… just those hard no’s, that you just aren’t going to be able to move people, no matter what you do, no matter what you say,” Schirano said. 

Some nurses and residents have been protesting vaccine mandates for weeks outside of Strong Memorial Hospital. After today’s announcement, they plan to rally again. 

“We will probably be doing some striking. We will be doing some walk-outs. We will get out there and we will be loud and noisy. They can fire us all if they want, we will still work for it,” Merle McDonald, a Registered Nurse at Highland Hospital said. 

McDonald said most of the protestors aren’t against the vaccine, they just want it to be a personal choice. 

“That’s all anybody here wants, it’s for us to be able to make our own autonomous decisions for our own bodies,” McDonald said.

As of Monday, 75% of the state’s hospital workers are fully vaccinated. 74% for New York’s adult care facility workers have been fully vaccinated, along with 68% of nursing home staff. 

News 8 will be following up with local hospitals and nursing homes about their plans going forward with this mandate.

Rochester Regional Health said in a statement following the mandate: 

“Rochester Regional Health will comply with the vaccine mandate Governor Cuomo announced today. We will be working on the implementation of this mandate as we learn more about it in the coming days. Currently,  75% of RRH employees are vaccinated.”

The University of Rochester Medical Center said: 

“We have received the news release from the Governor’s office, and are awaiting further instruction from NYS Department Health to understand the details of the requirement, and the impact this may have on our operations. As of today, 86% of our health care workers are confirmed or reported as vaccinated.”

Kirkhaven Nursing Home President and CEO Anne Gallese said:

“At Kirkhaven, since the covid-19 vaccine became available, we have been strong advocates for vaccination among our staff and residents. Kirkhaven continues to offer vaccination clinics on-site for employees.  Our vaccination rates remain above state and national averages. This mandate will further solidify our top priority which is always the health and safety of our residents and employees.”

St. John’s Senior Living and Care President & CEO Charlie Runyon said:

“The safety and well-being of St. John’s staff members and residents continues to be our top priority. Throughout the pandemic, St. John’s has followed county, state, and federally prescribed protocols and mandates for assisted living and nursing home facilities in response to COVID-19.  According to the New York State Governor Cuomo’s mandate released today, beginning September 27 we will require that all staff members in our assisted living and skilled nursing facilities be vaccinated for COVID-19. We will also continue to provide on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinics for our staff members as well as follow-up support as we have done since vaccinations were first available to providers in December 2020.”

 Read the full story here.

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