The Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers at facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding, in addition to statewide vaccine requirements, are causing hospital staff shortages across the country, as those who are unvaccinated are forced to leave their jobs.
These shortages are forcing some hospitals to shut down or scale back on healthcare services like delivering babies. In at least one known case, hospital rooms aren’t receiving clean linens and the cafeteria is unable to serve hot food because of staff shortage.
Brownfield Regional Medical Center in Texas may close down if the federal vaccine mandate is enforced because so many staff will have to be fired, according to KCBD in Lubbock.
“[P]robably 20 to 25 percent of my staff will have to go away if that’s the case,” said Jerry Jasper, CEO at Brownfield Regional Medical Center.
The hospital cannot afford to lose its Medicare and Medicaid money either, since it makes up 80-85% of their funding.
“It’s huge in our rural community as all the other rural communities,” Jasper said. “We all have high poverty levels and stuff like that, so a lot of Medicaid usage in our communities and stuff like that.”
As of Friday, Lewis County General Hospital in New York is no longer delivering babies because six of their maternity unit employees resigned to avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine, according to WWNY-TV. Seven other maternity unit workers are undecided on taking the vaccine.
Lewis County Health System CEO Gerald Cayer said his hope is that this is a temporary situation as he works with the state Department of Health to ensure the maternity unit doesn’t permanently close.
“If we can pause the service and now focus on recruiting nurses who are vaccinated, we will be able to reengage in delivering babies here in Lewis County,” he said.
There are 165 hospital employees who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine, which is 27% of the workforce, Cayer said. The other 73%, or 464 employees, have already received the vaccine.
St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., is consolidating operating rooms because of the staffing shortage, according to the chief medical officer, Dr. Philip Falcone, Spectrum News reported. Elective surgeries are continuing, but scheduled procedures are being reviewed every week to adjust capacity according to the number of staff available, Falcone said.
As of Sept. 21, 77% of St. Joseph’s staff are vaccinated.
The state of emergency allows out-of-state licensed healthcare workers, including those from outside the U.S., to practice in New York and medical practitioners to volunteer or work at other facilities where they are not employed.
A federal judge granted an emergency injunction in a civil rights lawsuit on Sept. 14, forcing New York to allow for religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. On Sunday, Hochul told worshippers at Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn that God wants them to get vaccinated, the Washington Examiner reported.
On Monday, Novant Health — a North Carolina-based hospital system with 35,000 employees across four states — announced it had fired about 175 workers who refused to comply with a company vaccine mandate.
Novant had previously suspended roughly 375 employees for non-compliance and given them five days to comply with the company’s mandate — or lose their jobs. Following the ultimatum, “nearly 200 additional team members came into compliance, increasing that rate across Novant Health to over 99 percent,” company spokeswoman Megan Rivers said Monday.
In Memphis, Mo., CEO of Scotland County Hospital Dr. Randy Tobler told NPR that they lost five nurses during the 18 months of the pandemic to higher-paying positions elsewhere. He tried to attract more employees with their lack of a vaccine mandate, but that was two days before Biden announced the nationwide mandate, negating that incentive.
Gundersen Health System, based in La Crosse, Wisc., has seen about 15% of its 7,600 employees choose to not get vaccinated, according to Wisconsin Spotlight. The health system announced in August that all employees must be vaccinated by Nov. 1 or they will be fired.
“If you ask for a religious exemption, they sit you down in front of a panel and grill you,” a nurse, who has been at Gundersen for about 10 years, told the news outlet. “They are testing people’s religious exemptions. I suspect at some point in the future they will start disallowing those exemptions. There is pressure for that as well.”
There is already a severe shortage of workers at Gundersen, even beyond medical staff.
“We’ve never seen a staffing situation this bad, and that’s from people who have worked here for 20, 30 years,” according to the nurse. “If you look at the lower-wage staff, laundry, custodial, kitchen, we have a lot of vacancies, and it’s really impacting patient care. Rooms can’t get clean towels and sheets. The cafeteria is serving cold cut sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly because they don’t have enough people to serve hot meals.”
A spokesperson for Indiana University Health — with 35,800 employees, the largest hospital system in Indiana — told Newsweek that “125 employees, the equivalent of 61 full-time employees, chose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and have left the organization.”
Because of these shortages, some healthcare leaders are calling for the Biden administration to take action to provide more workers.
CEO of the National Rural Health Association Alan Morgan is calling for the Biden administration to create strike teams to compensate for the shortage of qualified people to take the open healthcare jobs during a pandemic in a lot of regions. “Morgan suggested that teams could be drawn from the U.S. Public Health Service, the National Guard or the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help rural hospitals,” NPR reported.
American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack said in a statement on Sept. 9 that while his organization supports hospitals choosing to implement vaccine mandates, “As a practical matter, this policy may result in exacerbating the severe workforce shortage problems that currently exist.”
Pollack called on the administration to partner with hospitals “in developing aggressive and creative strategies to address this matter to ensure that hospitals and health systems on the front lines of fighting the battle against COVID-19 have the necessary Human Resources.”
The American Nurses Association sent Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra a letter on Sept. 1, writing, “it is imperative that the Administration acknowledge and take concrete steps to address … a crisis-level human resource shortage of nurses that puts our ability to care for patients in jeopardy.”
The association urged the administration to “declare a national nurse staffing crisis and take immediate steps to develop and implement both short- and long-term solutions.”
The vaccine mandate for healthcare workers “absolutely creates a challenge,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky acknowledged Monday in an interview on “Good Morning America.”
“What I would say is [we need] to do some work, to educate these healthcare workers, to meet them where they are, to understand where their hesitancy is so we can get them vaccinated and get them back to work,” she said.
These hospitals represent just a few examples of staffing shortages across the U.S. Many hospitals elsewhere in the aforementioned states and others such as California, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Virginia are also experiencing similar issues with staffing shortages.