An upstate New York hospital system said it will be forced to "pause" maternity services this month because some employees' refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19 has caused staffing shortages.
Lewis County Health System is experiencing mass resignations because of its vaccination mandate, putting some services at risk, CEO Gerald R. Cayer said Friday. The maternity unit already has staff shortages, with at least six resignations so far, while seven other staff members have expressed unwillingness to be vaccinated.
"We are unable to safely staff the service after Sept. 24," Cayer said. "The number of resignations received leaves us no choice but to pause delivering babies at Lewis County General Hospital."
Hospital administrators are working on "contingency plans" in case more mass resignations put other essential services at risk.
The deadline for health care staff members to get their first vaccine doses is Sept. 27 under state law. Medical exemptions are made for those who are allergic to or have had previous adverse reactions to vaccines, with certification from licensed physicians or certified nurse practitioners.
The state does not allow for religious exemptions for nursing home and other health care workers. It eliminated religious exemptions in 2019 during a measles outbreak.
Cayer said during a county meeting Friday that he "unequivocally" supports a vaccination mandate for health care workers. He said essential services are not at risk because of the mandate, which ensures a "healthy workforce."
"We as employees have an obligation not to put those we care for or our co-workers at risk," Cayer said.
At least 464 members of the hospital system's staff, about 73 percent, have been vaccinated; 165 have not. The majority of resignations have come from workers in clinical services, which put a number of areas at risk, Cayer said.
Lewis County has a seven-day positivity rate of 5.8 percent. The average for the state remains at 3.2 percent, according to state data.
President Joe Biden announced Thursday that his administration would issue sweeping vaccination mandates at the federal level. Employees working in health care facilities that are reimbursed by Medicare or Medicaid will be required to be vaccinated, Biden said.
The Labor Department was asked to issue an emergency ruling that employers with more than 100 employees must enforce vaccination mandates and weekly testing for the unvaccinated or face $14,000 fines per violation.
Vaccination mandates might be tested in federal court, particularly in areas where they do not allow for religious exemptions. No major organized religion objects to the vaccines, and Roman Catholic and other Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have advised followers to get inoculated.
Experts said the threshold for religious exemptions could come down to proving whether people trying to get them have "sincerely held beliefs" against getting vaccinated on religious grounds, including showing a history of whether they have had previous vaccination objections.