Despite court stay, Bassett to require employees to comply; Cooperstown Center asks state to reconsider
By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Healthcare groups in Otsego County are dealing with the state’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers and the need to keep their facilities staffed.
Bassett Healthcare Network, one of the largest employers in the area, is determined to vaccinate its entire workforce in spite of backlash and the potential loss of employees.
Bassett has made some progress on the vaccine front. According to an internal email penned by Bassett Healthcare CEO Dr. Tommy Ibrahim, vaccinations of its employees are at 90%. About two weeks ago, the vaccination rate was only 75%, according to Bassett officials.
Ibrahim said these numbers were increasing daily.
“Specifically, I want to say thank you to the many, many of you who have chosen to receive their COVID-19 vaccine,” Ibrahim wrote. “Whether you were among the first to get vaccinated in December, you just recently received your vaccine, or fall somewhere in between, I am so grateful for the choice that you made, and I know that our patients are as well.”
The decision for Bassett workers to be vaccinated came as a response to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mandate that all healthcare workers should have the vaccine, whether or not the employee has cause for a religious exemption.
Bassett Healthcare Network has given a Monday, Sept. 27, deadline for employees to get at least one dose of the vaccine.
Workers who don’t get the vaccine won’t be fired, however they won’t be allowed to work either.
A Utica judge temporarily blocked the governor’s order, in regard to barring religious exemptions, after a lawsuit was filed by healthcare workers. Hochul has said she will appeal the decision.
However, a Bassett Healthcare Network spokesperson said the stay on the mandate would not change Bassett’s plans to have all employees vaccinated by Sept. 27.
Meanwhile, The Cooperstown Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing is feeling the pressure with staff shortages and the looming mandate. The center is already understaffed, according to officials there, and they said they fear losing more employees.
According to Lacey Rinker, director of nursing, two fully vaccinated individuals have contracted COVID in the last two weeks, including one Thursday, Sept. 16.
Similar to Bassett, 90% of residents at the nursing facility are fully vaccinated with nine refusals, five awaiting the first dose and three waiting on the second dose. However, 13 employees have refused the vaccine altogether, which, if that holds, will mean they would no longer be able to work in the nursing facility and would become an inactive employee, although technically still employed.
Rinker said even the nursing employees who aren’t vaccinated take full precautions to make sure others are safe.
“Vaccinated or unvaccinated, there are different levels of COVID,” Rinker said. “What the vaccine does is lower your symptoms. There are different strains. It’s a virus. Vaccines are not failsafe, but they do make things safer.”
Rinker said she is encouraging residents and families to reach out to congress and Albany to put a halt to the mandate so the center can retain its staff.