Tired doctor with glasses in hand holding his eyes in clinic.

Community Health Center of St. Mary and Nathan Littauer Hospital in Johnstown, NY, has been operating in crisis mode since New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate went into effect two months ago.

Millie Ferriter

“My home health department has been devastated,” Executive Director Millie Ferriter told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “I have two home health aides left. We started out with six and we’re down to two.”

Although a federal judge halted The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services vaccine mandate for healthcare workers nationwide today, New York providers won’t get a break from their state’s vaccine mandate. New York’s regulation requires all healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated unless they qualify for a medical exemption. 

Kathy Febraio, president and CEO of New York State Association of Healthcare Providers told McKnight’s Home Care Daily many agencies saw up to 20% of their workforce walk off the job before the state mandate went into effect because they didn’t want to get the shots. 

“Many agencies stopped accepting new cases when the vaccine mandate was announced until they could get a better handle on what the impact was going to be. Now that they’ve seen the impact, some are still unable to accept new cases.”

Despite having only two home healthcare aides to cover seven rural upstate counties, nonprofit Community Health Center has continued to accept new patients because of a spike in COVID-19 cases. Still, Ferriter concedes she has been forced to turn away some patients. 

“Some of the far rural locations are two to four hours from our office. Those cases we can’t possibly take anymore,” Ferriter explained.

With coronavirus cases rising in New York and the added threat of the new omicron variant, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) late last week declared a disaster emergency in the state and deployed National Guard medical teams to help alleviate staff shortages at nursing homes and hospitals. An estimated three dozen hospitals have already temporarily halted elective surgeries due to capacity constraints.

Ferriter said some patients in need of elective surgery are among her sickest clients and that could put an even bigger burden on her already overworked staff.

“Now that (those patients) aren’t getting the treatments that they need–the elective surgeries–their health has deteriorated even faster, putting more stress and strain on the resources of home care (agencies),” Ferriter said.