The ongoing workforce shortage is pushing New York long-term care providers to be flexible with workers still hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine even after the state’s healthcare worker mandate went in place this week.

Stephen B. Hanse

“Employers are reluctant to terminate their employees. It’s happening but [they are also] affording them the opportunity to have further consideration in terms of the vaccine,” Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Wednesday. 

State data as of Monday showed that 92% of staff at New York’s long-term care facilities had been vaccinated. Hanse estimated that remaining 8% is about 20,000 workers that providers can’t afford to lose after already dealing with historic shortages caused by the pandemic.

“Many [employers] were allowing those individuals who were choosing not to be vaccinated to work right up to [Sept.] 26 and many of them now are allowing them like a 30-day leave of absence to allow them to consider the efficacy of the vaccination [and] for additional education efforts that they may reconsider their decision to not be vaccinated,” Hanse said,

“We have such a staffing shortage in New York that many providers did not want to terminate their employees,” he added. 

New York providers are required to have an emergency staffing plan in place — which is typically used for short-term emergencies like hurricanes — whenever shortages arise. Hanse said he hasn’t been informed that there are any providers forced to use those emergency staffing measures but noted that “doesn’t mean it’s not occurring.”

He added that while providers’ and the association’s goal to ultimately reach 100% staff vaccination throughout all long-term care facilities doesn’t seem possible statewide, individual some operators are achieving it on a facility-by-facility basis. 

“We knew 100% would not be achieved by [Sept. 27]. Providers in New York are continuing to do everything they can to educate workers, educate those who are laid off of the importance, efficacy and safety of the vaccination,” Hanse explained. “We are hoping that that 92% number continues to climb.” 

The association is working on several initiatives with the New York state officials to boost the state’s long-term care workforce, which includes increasing Medicaid rates to eliminate the current $56 shortfall between reimbursement and cost of care, and allowing for medical technicians in nursing homes. 

“Gov. [Kathy] Hochul (D) has demonstrated real leadership and understanding of the dire staffing circumstances we are facing,” Hanse said. “All indications are that the Hochul administration is ready, willing and able to work to address these.”