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Need to know: vaccine mandates, nursing homes, booster shots

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Monroe County Exec. Adam Bello. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • Monroe County Exec. Adam Bello.
Just three days after New York state’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers took effect, Monroe County and health care officials came together Thursday to update residents on how the systems have been affected.

Hospital staff vaccination rates

In a statement released Thursday, University of Rochester Medical Center reported that 96% of hospital employees were vaccinated, 3% had approved medical or religious exemptions, and 1% of employees resigned.

“We are pleased that such a high percentage of UR Medicine employees have chosen vaccination, which protects them individually against serious COVID illness, while collectively protecting our patients, families, and communities,” said URMC senior vice president, Steven Goldstein.

Those with approved exemptions are required to submit to weekly COVID testing along with daily symptom tracking.

“We continue to encourage everyone who is eligible to become vaccinated, including staff members who currently have a religious exemption or who recently resigned and will be welcomed back,” Goldstein said.

Over at Rochester Regional Health more than 99% of staff have been vaccinated, according to its Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Mayo. Mayo said less than 1% of unvaccinated employees have approximately five days of administrative leave to reconsider getting the vaccine.



PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE

“Their employment would come to a termination if they did not comply with the regulation,” Mayo said.

Over at Monroe Community Hospital the time frame is a bit more lenient. County Executive Adam Bello is granting 30 days of unpaid administrative leave under which unvaccinated employees must get the vaccine to keep their positions. Bello said 93.8% of MCH employees were vaccinated, there was one resignation, and seven exemptions were approved.

Nursing home impact

Health care officials said that despite the high employee vaccination rates, the hospital systems are still understaffed in some areas, specifically in nursing home and rehabilitation centers.

According to URMC officials 24 nursing homes in the Finger Lakes region have stopped accepting new patients. Officials said this is a result of previous staff shortages that were worsened by the state’s vaccine mandate for health care workers.

Dr. Michael Apostolakos, URMC chief medical officer, said people waiting to get into nursing homes are causing overcrowding at hospitals.

“It is causing a significant percentage of our beds to be taken up, making it more difficult to get patients through the emergency room and into our hospital,” Apostolakos said.

UR Medicine hospitals have 55 patients awaiting discharge into a nursing home, and RRH has at least 60. “We continue to care for them, we continue to look for options,” said Dr. Robert Mayo, RRH chief medical officer.

COVID-19 return-to-school protocol

The increase in COVID-19 cases in school-age children is also causing local health care systems to be stretched thin, officials said.

In an effort to reduce the strain on clinical facilities, the Monroe County public health department is making it easier for sick students to return to school once they’re better.

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said students who were out sick won't have to see their health care provider for clearance under certain conditions.

“As long as their symptoms are gone and they've tested negative with the right test, they can get right back to school following a return to school algorithms,” Mendoza said.

He said the right test is either the nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) or the PCR test.

Rapid tests, Mendoza said, are not acceptable, according to state mandates. He said those tests have proven unreliable in areas where transmission rates are high or moderate.

Booster shots

Monroe County will begin giving out booster shots to residents 65 years and older starting on Friday, according to County Executive Adam Bello. He said the third dose is by appointment, and is only available at the county’s Fleet Center clinic and the Monroe Community College downtown campus clinic.

Bello said more locations will become available as eligibility increases.

Appointments for a booster shot can be made here or by calling 211.

Racquel Stephen is a reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.