UMV Health Network NNY Affiliates Continue to Provide Care Despite Mandate

New York State’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers has brought long-standing healthcare staffing shortage into sharper focus, but leaders at UVM Health Network -- Alice Hyde Medical Center, UVM Health Network -- Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, and UVM Health Network -- Elizabethtown Community Hospital say their teams are doing a tremendous job caring for patients despite challenging circumstances.

On Tuesday Alice Hyde reported that 16 employees had left the organization due to the state’s mandate; at CVPH 12 employees were terminated; and at Elizabethtown 2 employees had resigned.

Alice Hyde Medical Center and CVPH President Michelle LeBeau said those losses compound an already difficult situation but don’t tell the whole story. Fifty five employees have left CVPH or reduced their hours on a voluntary basis for variety of reasons since the mandate was announced on August, 16.

“What we are seeing is that some of our staff have opted to end their career in health care, and have resigned -- or if they can, retired.  It’s been a tough 18 months for all of us and I’m sure it was a difficult decision and   one we have to respect. We have also seen some folks who have opted to become travelers - seizing the financial opportunity currently available as a result of our industry’s great need. For some traveling is an opportunity to see something new, grow as a clinician and reap the benefits available as a result of the need for nurses across our country. It’s clear that health care is changing quickly.”

The North Country hospitals had already put a number of measures in place in preparation for possible impacts from the mandate, which went into effect on Monday. Both Alice Hyde and CVPH have recruited traveling nurses to fill scheduling gaps. At CVPH, where the Emergency Room and inpatient care units have been at or near capacity for the past few weeks, all inpatient surgical procedures scheduled for this week have been postponed, and the facility had limited incoming patient transfers last weekend.

At Alice Hyde, admissions to the hospital’s long-term care facility, The Alice Center, are being closely monitored, to ensure proper staffing levels are maintained. The hospital also re-opened its Intermediate Care Unit (IMCU) on Monday after closing it temporarily last week so those staff members could support Alice Hyde’s Medical-Surgical Unit and Emergency Department – both of which continue to see high patient volumes amid the delta variant’s spread across the region.

“I’m incredibly proud of our people and the work they do each day under very challenging conditions,” said Matt Jones, Chief Operating Officer of Alice Hyde. “From the beginning, this pandemic has challenged health care organizations like ours to think and work differently in order to care for our communities – and the foundation of our success has been employees who step up and into each challenge, whether that is staffing shortages, patients anxious about how to receive care during a public health crisis, or just the constant need to adapt to unexpected changes.”

Hospital officials reiterated their commitment to vaccination against COVID-19, calling the treatments the best way to protect patients and employees from the virus, and a critical aspect of each organization’s work maintaining health, safety and services in their communities.

As of Tuesday, 93% of Alice Hyde employees, 95% of CVPH employees, and 96% of Elizabethtown employees had received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Since last Thursday, more than 300 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported by health departments in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. CVPH on Tuesday was caring for 24 COVID-19 patients, while Alice Hyde was caring for 11, and Elizabethtown – a critical access hospital with no ICU -- reported 1 COVID-19 patient and “We are fortunate at Elizabethtown Community Hospital that, despite staffing shortages, there will not be a disruption to patient care, and we’re grateful to our employees for doing everything they can to protect our patients. But the increase in COVID cases and Emergency Department visits puts pressure on our staff and hospitals around the region. We encourage everyone to help keep our communities safe by getting vaccinated,” said Elizabethtown Community Hospital President Bob Ortmyer.

“Our teams are doing all they can every day to be sure their patients get the care they need,” LeBeau said.  “The national workforce shortage has hit our industry hard and we’re adjusting to fewer staff at a time when our patient volume is high. Hospitals across the region are also struggling. They also have too few staff, not enough available beds and many patients needing care.”

​She pointed out that the Emergency Departments bear the brunt of this crisis. Because of the shortage of inpatient beds, patients are facing long waits – sometimes overnight stays in the Emergency Departments. “The ED is not always the right place to get the care you need. In life threatening situations, of course, call 911 or get to an ED but if your ailment is not life threatening and can treated by an urgent care center or your primary care provider, it makes sense to go there.”