A hospital in upstate New York said it will stop delivering babies for a while later this month after several staff members quit over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. At least six staffers of the maternity ward at Lewis County General Hospital have resigned recently and seven others remain undecided about their future as the state’s mandate is set to take effect. The resignations, coupled with a number of existing vacant positions, mean that the hospital wlll be “unable to safely staff” its maternity department starting Sept. 25, said Gerald Cayer, chief executive officer of the Lewis County Health System, at a news conference. “The number of resignations received leaves us no choice but to pause delivering babies at Lewis County General Hospital,” Cayer said. Other departments could also see a decrease in services.
The “pause” will begin two days before the deadline that has been established for healthcare workers to get vaccinated across the state. New York doesn’t allow religious exemptions to its vaccine mandate for healthcare and nursing home workers although medical exemptions are still allowed. Overall, 30 staffers at the Lewis County General Hospital have resigned over the mandate, 20 of whom were employed in clinical positions, including nurses. An additional 30 workers have been vaccinated since the mandate was announced in late August. At least 464 staff members, or around 73 percent, are vaccinated Cayer said, adding he “unequivocally” supports a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. “We as employees have an obligation not to put those we care for or our coworkers at risk,” he added.
Cayer expressed optimism this would just be a temporary situation and would not lead the maternity unit to close entirely. “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,” said Cayer. For now though, the hospital is losing staff at a time when COVID-19 cases are increasing in the area. “Lewis County has the highest seven-day and 14-day positivity rates in the state of New York over the past three days,” said health system Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sean Harney.