CMH: 98% of staff vaxxed

Columbia Memorial Health in Hudson. File photo

HUDSON — About 98% of Columbia Memorial Health staffers have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose — a stark contrast to a lower full vaccination rate figure reported by the state Health Department earlier this week.

As of Friday, 1,645 of the total 1,683 health staff at Columbia Memorial Hospital, at 71 Prospect Ave., Hudson, have received at least one dose of an approved COVID vaccine, CMH spokesman Bill Van Slyke said.

“The 38 individuals would be subject to the requirement as outlined in the state mandate,” Van Slyke said. “I think we’ve seen an increase [of staff getting the vaccine] coming into the deadline, but we also saw steady participation going back since the vaccine became available.”

The state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers in hospitals, nursing homes and adult-care facilities started at midnight Tuesday, requiring all health workers to have at least their first vaccine dose to comply.

It was unclear at press time Friday if the 38 unvaccinated health workers would be placed on leave for a certain period or terminated.

“The hospital has taken whatever actions are necessary in order to be compliant with the state order,” Van Slyke said.

About 83% of hospital workers at Columbia Memorial Health have completed their one-dose Johnson & Johnson or two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to protect themselves and others against the coronavirus, according to the state Health Department on Wednesday.

The department would not release Friday the number of staffers at each New York hospital that have received at least one COVID vaccine dose to comply with the state requirement.

“As noted on our COVID-19 vaccine tracker hospital worker vaccination page, hospital worker vaccination progress is self-reported by individual hospital facilities weekly via the New York State Department of Health’s HERDS survey,” Department of Health spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said in a statement Friday.

The number of staffers with at least one vaccine dose will be higher than a facility’s full COVID vaccine rate.

Columbia Memorial Health officials are pleased with their staffers’ compliance with getting Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines, which must be administered at least 21 or 28 days apart, respectively, or Johnson & Johnson’s immunization.

“We’re a community hospital — we care for our friends, family and neighbors,” Van Slyke said. “Our numbers are certainly consistent with other providers and we think most health care providers are being compliant. It’s certainly a commitment our staff has in looking after their patients and looking after their colleagues.”

Of the other six Capital Region hospitals, 98% of staff at Albany Medical Center are fully vaccinated, in addition to 90% of hospital staff at St. Peter’s Health Partners, 90% of workers at Samaritan Hospital, 95% at Saratoga Hospital, 94% at Ellis Hospital and 92% at Glens Falls Hospital, according to the department.

The Health Department would not respond to questions Friday about when it would update the full vaccination rate as increasing staffers got vaccinated before the mandate went into effect.

The state mandate for health workers — the first of its kind in the nation — has exacerbated health care staffing shortages around the state.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has defended the mandate several times this week, and signed an executive order to deploy medically trained members of the National Guard and requesting federal Disaster Medical Assistance teams to assist local health and medical systems as necessary. The governor plans to work with the federal government to expedite visa requests for medical professionals from other states and nations, including the Dominican Republic and Philippines.

“We’re not changing our position,” she said at a press conference in Manhattan on Thursday. “It was hard to do though. It’s hard to force people to do something that you truly wish they would do voluntarily.”

Columbia Memorial Health has expanded telehealth services and adjusted some hours of operation at its rapid care centers to ease the stress on its health workers and not reduce quality of services.

CMH warned potential patients of longer-than-usual wait times for an emergency department visit or treatment within the last two weeks, citing staffing shortages before the mandate took effect.

The issue was compounded by a record number of patients with flu or COVID-like symptoms at the local hospital and other health care facilities around the state.

The hospital has started to reschedule some in-patient elective surgeries to be able to handle the record volume of patients.

“We’ve been very vigorously recruiting for many months now for a number of vacancies that we have for clinical staffing positions and nonclinical support staffing positions, all of which are important to patient care,” Van Slyke said.

The true impact of the mandate will not be known for several weeks, he added.

“Dealing with staffing shortages is unfortunately nothing new for health care providers in our region and upstate New York in particular,” Van Slyke said. “The volumes that we’ve had recently have exacerbated the impact of some of those shortages. We expect to see that volume return to normal and we’ll do as we always have to manage through the issue and sustain the vital services the community relies on.

“We’ve been able to really sustain all of the high-priority care and remain available at all times to meet the [community’s] needs.”

Health staff at CMH have stepped up and offered to help in other departments and shifting responsibilities as needed to stay afloat after working tirelessly through a grueling 17-month pandemic, and counting, Van Slyke continued.

“All three of those factors essentially combined created a unique moment in time, and probably one of the most meaningful takeaways from this episode is how the team at CMH rallied,” he said. “People have put their hands up and said ‘How can I help?’ They were asked to provide care in areas where they wouldn’t necessarily normally provide care, and they responded really heroically.”

Roughly 92% of hospital employees, 92% of nursing home employees and 89% of adult care facility employees have received at least one vaccine shot as required by the mandate, according to the governor’s office.

“The Department of Health’s Operations Center continues to closely monitor the health care staffing situation, troubleshooting challenges with facilities as needed,” Hammond said in a statement earlier this week.

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