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Nurses discuss New York State vaccine mandate's impact on health care system

Health care workers are worried it will cause an even bigger shortage of workers, ultimately having a ripple effect as Monday's deadline approaches.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Health care workers in nursing homes and hospitals statewide must be vaccinated by Monday or risk being unemployed.

As Monday approaches, even nurses who were already vaccinated are starting to worry.

"The vaccinated healthcare workers are still going to be trying to help whoever needs help in these hospitals or nursing homes and they may not have the staff to back them up," Candace Bliss said. 

Bliss got the vaccine as soon as it was available and is a nurse in Wyoming County. She's already seen some nursing students back out of their programs because they don't want to get the vaccine.

"That's really sad because that's going to effect the future of health care," Bliss said. "It's a scary time, whether you're vaccinated or not."

A Utica judge temporarily blocked the mandate through October 12 for health care workers who file a religious exemption application, such as Catholic Health nurse Jillian Dobrzenski.

After October 12, she will be placed on unpaid leave for 30 days, and then terminated. That's unless the judge sides with health care workers who filed the lawsuit. 

With many workers leaving Monday, Dobrzenski doesn't expect things to get better for the state's health care system. 

"You take us away, that staffing issue is exacerbated. The patient suffers, the community suffers, and my fellow coworkers who are vaccinated who still have jobs, they suffer because they have to work without our help anymore," Dobrzenski said. 

Catholic Health officials aren't releasing just how many of their employees have filed for a religious exemption.

Officials there say the hospital system supports Gov. Kathy Hochul's decision to move forward with the mandate. That's because they say through the science and data, it's been proven the vaccine can end the pandemic.

Catholic Health has not said how many workers have filed for a religious exemption, but 83 percent of workers there are vaccinated. 

Meanwhile, Governor Hochul has said if not enough health care workers are vaccinated by Monday, she will announce initiatives to help facilities with the shortages. 

Local nurses aren't sure the mandate is the answer. 

"I do think people should be vaccinated but on the other hand, it's just such a hard balance right now. I don't know what the right answer is. I don't know if it's this mandate," Bliss said.

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