New York’s outgoing governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced a Covid-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. The mandate applies to staff in hospitals, and long-term care facilities, such as adult care, nursing homes and other congregate care settings. According to the mandate, all healthcare workers in congregate care settings will have to be vaccinated by Monday, September 27. Consequently, the state’s Department of Health will issue Section 16 Orders in which hospitals, long-term care facilities and other congregate care settings, will have to develop and implement policies mandating employee vaccinations. So far, three in four of New York’s approximately 450,000 hospital workers, 74% of its approximately 30,000 adult care facility workers, as well as 685 of its approximately 145,500 nursing home workers, have been fully vaccinated. The mandate comes at a time when the Delta variant has swept across the country, accounting for more than 80% of the 1000% spike in new cases in New York over the last six weeks. According to 13WHAM, the success of the vaccine rollout among healthcare workers has been replicated in local hospitals in Rochester.
13WHAM reports that as of the third week of August, between 15 and 25% of hospital staff are still unvaccinated. This is still a large number, hundreds of workers providing vital healthcare at a time when the Delta variant has wreaked havoc on America. 13WHAM interviews Dr. Michael Apostolakos of Strong Memorial Hospital. They find that the hospital is in the throes of a third wave. Admissions for Covid-19 are on the rise. The hospital is usually nearly at full capacity with non-Covid-19 illnesses, but as of the interview, the hospital has gone from having just a handful of Covid-19 patients to 26 patients, 12 of whom are in the intensive care unit (ICU). Although this is a huge rise in cases in just a few weeks, it is still a manageable number. However, if this trend continues for much longer, the hospital will be forced to halt elective surgeries in order to deal with the third wave.
As pressure on hospital systems mounts, staff are stretched and the demand for beds, oxygen masks and ventilators rises. As this happens, fatalities rise. The worst scenario is one where there are not enough resources for patients and patients have to be turned away. The fear is that the hospital, like many others, will reach a threshold where fatalities start to rise as the hospital buckles under the pressure. A hospital needs some “inefficiency”, some slack or spare capacity to ensure that its patients are given the best treatment. When a hospital is working “efficiently”, that is, when every bed is filled, all oxygen masks used, all ventilators assigned to patients, there is no room for error, no spare energy for patients, and outcomes start to turn against healthcare workers.
The hospital, like many others in Rochester, has gone through two brutal Covid-19 waves, in which healthcare workers were stretched thin, left exhausted and stressed, and where resources were pushed to the maximum. It is not an experience that anyone is looking forward to. It is an experience that they may have to go through again.
Thankfully, the mandate and the success of the vaccine rollout, ensures that patients in hospitals, long-term care facilities such as adult day care facilities, and other congregate care settings, can rest safe in the knowledge that their carers are vaccinated.