With New York State’s mandate requiring health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID taking effect next Monday, the University of Rochester Medical Center said 99 percent of professional medical staff and 91 percent of all employees across the six UR Medicine hospitals were partially or fully vaccinated as of Sept. 20.
Staff Vaccination Rates
“Medical professionals know that vaccination is the most powerful tool we have to keep ourselves, our families and the community safe,” said Michael Apostolakos, M.D., URMC’s chief medical officer. “More people being vaccinated means fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths.”
Hospital leaders, clinical experts, and URMC researchers have provided information and answered questions from employees since the vaccines became available last year. Apostolakos explained that those efforts intensified after the state mandate was announced Aug. 16, continuing this week and through Monday. “More than 23,000 employees at UR Medicine hospitals have already chosen vaccination, and the numbers at each hospital are growing as the mandate deadline approaches,” he said.
Working to Minimize Patient Impacts
Under New York State’s vaccination mandate, health care workers who have not received at least one shot of an approved COVID vaccine by Sept. 27, or received an approved exemption, are ineligible to continue working in clinical facilities and nursing homes.
Apostolakos said many patients and staff members will face inconveniences after the mandate takes effect, but critically needed care and many non-critical services will continue without interruption.
He explained that hospitals in the Finger Lakes and nationally already face staffing shortages because of rising demand for clinical services, some health workers retiring or choosing other employment after 18 months of COVID stress, and fewer recruits choosing health care over other career options. These staff shortages, not related to the mandate, have caused UR Medicine Labs to close some patient service centers temporarily, Strong to close hospital beds in several units, and Highland to postpone a small number of scheduled elective procedures beginning Monday, Sept. 20.
“UR Medicine has been recruiting aggressively for months to fill vacant positions, and we will intensify those efforts as the mandate takes effect until our hospitals are fully staffed,” Apostolakos said. “In the meantime, we will share resources as a system, taking steps such as temporarily sharing staff between hospitals as needed to minimize impacts on patient care.”
Each hospital is developing flexible contingency plans based on best-case and worst-case vacancy levels after the mandate takes effect. Examples of steps already being taken include temporary closure of the UR Medicine Urgent Care in Spencerport this week, temporary closure of the UR Medicine Urgent Care in Farmington beginning Sept. 25, and a two-week pause in scheduling new elective procedures at Strong beginning Sept. 27.
Patients can expect longer wait times for routine appointments, some employees will be asked to take on new responsibilities, and temporary bed closures are possible depending on staffing impact in different hospitals and clinical service areas. However, Apostolakos emphasized that emergency services and critical care will continue across the UR Medicine system.
“UR Medicine hospitals will remain open for business and ready to provide essential care for patients,” Apostolakos said. “We encourage every member of the public to get vaccinated against COVID, and please don’t put off seeking medical care whenever you need it.”