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NY hospital to pause baby deliveries after resignations over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Photo of a pacifier. (Provided Photo)

(CNN) — A hospital in upstate New York is “pausing” deliveries of babies because of the number of maternity unit employee resignations over the state’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements, health officials say.

Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville, about 60 miles northeast of Syracuse, will stop deliveries after Sept. 24, said Gerald Cayer, chief executive of the Lewis County Health System.

“We are unable to safely staff the service after September 24. The number of resignations received leaves us no choice but to pause delivering babies at Lewis County General Hospital. It is my hope that the Department of Health will work with us in support of pausing the service rather than closing the maternity department,” Cayer said at a news conference Friday.

Since former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced all hospital and long-term care facility employees must have at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by Sept. 27, 30 hospital system employees — 21 of whom were working in clinical areas — have resigned, Cayer said.

Six of the resignations were in the hospital’s maternity unit.

Cayer said there are 165 employees throughout the Lewis County Health System who haven’t received a single dose of the vaccine.

“Our vaccine vaccination rate is now 73% — 464 individuals in the health system are now vaccinated,” Cayer said. “165 employees are not yet vaccinated. And it is not clear what they will do,” Cayer said.

“We have two weeks remaining for 165 staff to receive the first dose of the vaccine. And at the same time, we must develop contingency plans for services we believe are at risk. We can’t wait to the last minute. We have not been given much time, and it is a hard deadline before us.”

Cayer said several other departments were at risk “based on the number of unvaccinated individuals in those departments.”

Contingency plans include reassigning nurses from administration roles to their clinical functions, he said.

Asked what it would take to keep the maternity ward running, Cayer said: “Our hope is as we get closer, 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.”

Employees who resign or are terminated over vaccination status will not be eligible for unemployment benefits, he said.

Cayer said hospital staff shortages were an issue that predated the coronavirus pandemic and he now wanted to focus on recruitment.

“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,” Cayer said.

Cayer said he supports the mandate for health care workers and others.

“The mandate ensures we will have a healthy workforce, and that we are not responsible for transmission in or out of our facilities,” he said.

“The COVID-19 positivity trend line over the last two weeks is moving in the wrong direction, and putting our community at risk. Lewis County has the highest 7-day and 14-day positivity rate in the state of New York over the last three days,” he said Friday.

“Today this is how COVID-19 transmission is impacting the health system. Lewis County Health System has five employees in quarantine, five employees in isolation, and there are four community members hospitalized at LCGH who are Covid-positive, and they are ill enough to be inpatients.”

The New York State Department of Health issued an order Aug. 16 mandating the vaccination of all health care workers, including staff at “nursing homes, adult care, and other congregate care settings,” by Sept. 27.

Cuomo had previously announced that all patient-facing health care workers at state hospitals must get vaccinated with no testing options.

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden announced he would require the 17 million health care workers at facilities receiving funds from Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated, expanding the mandate to hospitals, home care facilities and dialysis centers around the country.