A hospital in Lewis County, New York, has shut down its maternity ward since staff resigned after refusing to be vaccinated.
Lewis County is considered a high-risk area and has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in New York. Of the 27,000 residents, only 44% are fully vaccinated, compared to the statewide 61%. Over the last 14 days, hospitalizations in the county rose by 35%.
The vaccine mandate for Lewis County General Hospital staff came after President Joe Biden announced nationwide employees working in healthcare facilities that are reimbursed by Medicaid or Medicare must be vaccinated. The emergency ruling also applies to any employer with more than 100 employees; they must enforce vaccination mandates and weekly testing for the unvaccinated, or pay a fine.
Gerald Cayer, chief executive officer of Lewis County Health System, said he approves of the mandate.
“I have been asked several times if I support the vaccination mandate for healthcare workers and others. The answer is unequivocally yes,” Cayer said.
Cayer said the mandate will allow essential services to run almost as normal because it will protect both the workers and their patients.
“We as employees have an obligation not to put those we care for or our co-workers at risk,” Cayer said.
All healthcare workers must get their first dose of the vaccine by Sept. 27. Medical exemptions are allowed, but religious exemptions are not following a precedent from 2019 during a measles outbreak.
Four hundred and sixty-four employees, 73% of the total healthcare workers in Lewis County, have been vaccinated. But others, like the staff of the maternity department at Lewis County General Hospital, have opted to resign instead. Six out of 18 staff members in the department have resigned while seven have not yet made their decision about the vaccine.
Because a third of the maternity department is now missing, Cayer said there is no way the hospital can continue delivering babies.
“The math is just not working. We are unable to safely staff the service after Sept. 24. The number of resignations received leaves us no choice but to pause delivering babies,” Cayer said.
The pause at the hospital is scheduled for two days before the nationwide mandate takes effect. Cayer said he still hopes more healthcare workers will agree to be vaccinated before that time comes.
“Our hope is as we get closer [to the deadline] the numbers will increase of individuals who are vaccinated, fewer individuals will leave, and, maybe, with a little luck, some of those who have resigned will reconsider,” Cayer said
Cayer also said he does not plan to permanently close the maternity department. He said he hopes the Department of Health will work in support of a temporary pause.