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NYS reveals plan on hospital staffing shortages with COVID vaccination mandate

Gov. Kathy Hochul says the National Guard, out-of-state workers, or workers from other countries may be needed.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Gov. Kathy Hochul has now put the vaccination rate at 84 percent for hospital staffers in the state, so she says Albany is seeking ways to counter a potential shortage with the other 16 percent who may not be allowed to work without the vaccination.    

2 On Your Side has more on what the state is planning and the perspective of a local hospital official.

Compared to some other Western New York hospitals, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center is in pretty good shape with a 93 percent staff vaccination rate and will keep services intact, unlike some others. 

But the medical center's president, Joseph Ruffolo, still has overall concerns with patient care, the pandemic, vaccinations, and now mandates putting jobs at risk. It's a perfect storm, as they say.

Ruffolo's view is that "you still have a certain segment of the various professionals that are not willing to get vaccinated, so it just compounds a problem that had already existed."

That problem is a shortage of qualified, experienced health care staffers such as registered nurses to begin with before COVID. It also pushed many workers near retirement age to get out sooner with the age infection risk and increased workload. 

Governor Hochul wants to address it with ideas such as using medically trained National Guard units and requests for Federal Disaster Medical Teams. That's even though their numbers are limited.

She also suggests that more health care staff be brought in from other states and countries. But that could be more costly for hospitals paying for the contract or travel nurses as they are called and difficult with VISAs for any workers brought in form overseas. 

Then the state's plan calls for urging or offering incentives for retirees to come back. That may be easier said than done. Also, there's an idea of speeding up accreditation for recent nursing school graduates. 

However, Ruffolo points out many of those grads had strictly remote learning with the pandemic.

"They really didn't get a chance to do their full labs or their full rotations, clinical rotations in hospitals. And so they're actually requiring a lot more training than usual with respect to orientation, so that they can actually be on their own taking care of patients," Ruffolo said.

And how about rehab or nursing homes with only a 77 percent vaccination rate, according to the state? That is especially the case for certified nursing assistants who also face the mandate. Ruffalo says those facilities may limit new patient intake or cut their bed count with their own staff shortage concerns.

Ruffolo worries about the potential impact on hospitals.

"We may see more long-term care patients occupying hospital beds because they can't be placed in a nursing home, which then would have a ripple effect on the emergency room, because you'll have medical admissions in your emergency room that can't make it to the floors because those beds are occupied by long term care residents," Ruffolo said.