Exodus of health workers concerns Goodell

The news that the WCA Home in Fredonia could lose one-third of its staff comes as no surprise to Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown.

Goodell and 41 fellow members of the state Assembly sent a letter late last week to Gov. Kathy Hochul and Dr. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner, asking the state to help find a way to keep health care workers employed as a late September deadline looms for healthcare workers to either take a COVID-19 vaccination or leave the field entirely.

At issue is a state-mandated COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers that takes effect Sept. 27. The order affects all hospital, long-term care facilities and nursing homes. The WCA Home said last week that six unvaccinated employees have given notice th ey intent to leave on Oct. 7, leaving the facility without enough staff to care for 22 WCA Home residents. The WCA Home has begun working with the Chautauqua County Office for the Aging and state Department of Health to prepare discharge plans for half of the homeás residents.

âPlaying àchickená with the state is what we call sitting on our hands and doing nothing in hopes that the crash of our workforce on Oct. 7 will never happen,ã said Christine Davis Mantai, president of the WCA Home board of directors. âWe cannot play that game and leave our families and residents in the dark with no time to make sensible arrangements for finding a place where they can get the care they need. We also cannot risk being out of compliance with New York state rules and regulations for operating our programs.ã

While Davis Mantai said the WCA Home is the first to go public with their staffing issues, Goodellás letter states an estimated 20 to 25% of health care workers are unvaccinated. Losing a quarter of frontline caregivers comes at a time when many areas already canát find workers and are struggling to meet state-mandated quality of care staffing minimums.

âAs mentioned, prior to this mandate, we were already facing staffing shortages and burnout as a result of the pandemic. With the mandate going into effect in less than a month, how do we ensure that we can maintain a strong and robust healthcare workforce so that New Yorkers can continue to receive critical care during thistime? We must be proactive to ensure we have a reliable healthcare workforce in place should our state face another surge in hospitalizations,ã the Republicans wrote in their letter to Hochul and Zucker.

Goodell and the Assembly members who signed on to the letter, which includes Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, support vaccination and immunization to combat COVID-19 and protect public health, though the largely Republican contingent also donát want to let the health care worker vaccine mandate create even worse workers shortages for hospitals, nursing homes and long term care facilities in rural areas.

Mantai said the WCA Home has increased employee compensation in attempts to attract more workers to its open jobs. In addition to the health care plan the nursing home already offered, the WCA Home gave workeers àhero payá during the worst of the pandemic, and have instituted wage increases three times this year. She said all employees earn at least $15 an hour and the WCA Home board approved a retirement benefit package for the first time.

Republicans are asking Hochul and Zucker to consider alternatives to protect workers and nursing home residents if workers donát want to be vaccinated.

âWhile we agree that we should do all that we can to combat vaccine hesitation with education and remove all barriers to access, it is our view that we should do this through positive reinforcement and encouragement, not mandates,ã the Assembly members wrote to Hochul and Zucker. âWhile the vaccine still provides a tremendous amount of protection for immunized individuals, we have already learned that immunized individuals can still contract and spread the virus to others. Perhaps a more comprehensive solution, instead of a widespread mandate, would be to increase access to PPE, including N95 masks, for healthcare settings and allow for weekly testing of unvaccinated healthcare workers, which is the standard applied to P-12 schools.ã


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