Patients left in lurch as NY’s home-care workers face vaccine deadline

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Thousands of homebound patients across New York state could be left without the care they need as at-home health care workers stare down governor Kathy Hochul’s Thursday deadline for them to get vaccinated, according to industry insiders.

As many as 50,000 home health aides across the state who have yet to be vaccinated could lose their jobs or be put on leave Thursday, Artie Schwabe, CEO and co-founder of Premier Home Health Care, told The Post.

If at-home health care agencies are required to fire unvaccinated workers, patients will likely lose care, as companies like his won’t be able to quickly find replacements due to a labor shortage that’s hit health care particularly hard, he said.

Premier Home Health Care has tried to incentivize workers to get the shots, Schwabe said, and the company’s vaccination rate is up to 90 percent.

Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul has mandated at-home health care workers to get vaccines against COVID-19 by Oct. 7, 2021.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock

But the industry needs more time to make sure vulnerable patients don’t fall through the cracks, he said, adding that he’s looking into filing for a temporary restraining order to block the mandate.

The figure of 50,000 unvaccinated home-care workers across the state sounds right to Kathy Febraio, CEO and President of the New York State Association of Health Care Providers, a trade association that represents the home-care industry.

She said home-care staffing agencies are “prioritizing their highest-risk patients” and “shifting caseloads to accommodate as many of their patients as possible.”

“But we are watching the clock closely,” she added.

Cristina Licup receives her COVID-19 booster shot where she works at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. The deadline for hospital and nursing home workers in New York state to be vaccinated against COVID-19 arrived Monday with the prospect of severe staff shortages fueled by workers getting suspended or fired for refusing to be inoculated. All health care workers in New York state at hospitals and nursing homes are required to be vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Monday.
All health care workers in New York state at hospitals and nursing homes were required to be vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27, 2021.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Home-care staff are going to have to work overtime to cover patients if the state refuses to budge on Thursday deadline, she said, “but they’ve already been working overtime throughout this pandemic.”

“They are tired. They are overwhelmed, and we need some relief,” she said, adding that home-care workers have been leaving their jobs in large numbers during the pandemic and she’s concerned the vaccine mandate will only hurt the workforce more.

A similar vaccination mandate for health care workers in congregate settings like hospitals took effect last month has led to some sweeping dismissals and suspensions.

Despite the firings, Hochul has said she won’t budge on the issue.

Home healthcare workers vaccine mandate
If at-home health care agencies are required to fire unvaccinated workers companies won’t be able to quickly find replacements, Schwabe told The Post.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

And unlike hospital workers, Febraio noted, home-care workers don’t necessarily report to an office everyday, adding a logistical challenge to even gathering the proof of vaccination.

Al Cardillo, the president of the Home Care Association of New York, said the number of unvaccinated home-care workers who lose their jobs on Thursday could in fact be greater than 50,000.

Surveys done by his group suggest that some 70,000 home-care aides could be unvaccinated, on top of another 6,000 nurses.

The governor’s inflexible deadline, he said, is “not responsible.”

“The big issue is not the mandate,” he said. “The issue is the question of applying the mandate.”

The state has created an “an all-or-nothing scenario,” he said, adding that the governor is telling elderly and vulnerable people, “Good luck on your services.”

Cardillo as well as everyone The Post spoke with for this story said they are in favor of encouraging vaccinations, but he urged the governor to reconsider the deadline.

In response to his and others’ pleas to address the impending worker shortage, he said the state has loosened regulations so that companies can tap out-of-state home-care aides and even military members to fill gaps.

But if thousands of workers are fired on Thursday, Cardillo said replacements almost certainly won’t be there on Friday.

When reached for comment, Hochul’s office referred The Post to the Department of Health.

“It is critical for health care workers to get vaccinated to protect themselves and the vulnerable populations they care for, and we will continue to work with providers and stakeholders to protect quality patient care,” DOH spokeswoman Jill Montag said. 

“We are encouraged by the increase in hospital and nursing home staff who got vaccinated in the weeks and days leading up to their vaccine mandate deadline and we expect the same of those health care workers who will be required to receive at least one vaccine dose by October 7.”

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