OLEAN – Thirteen employees at Pines Nursing Homes in Cattaraugus County refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before Monday’s deadline and were placed on ineligibility leave without pay for 60 days.
Eight employees are listed as unvaccinated at Machias Pines and five at Pines Nursing Home in Olean. There are 176 employees in Machias and 162 in Olean. Each retirement home has around 110 beds.
Twenty-seven other nursing home workers – 25 from Machias Pines and two from Olean – have applied for religious exemptions. Two others at Olean have requested medical exemptions.
A federal judge in Utica issued a restraining order last week and set an October 12 hearing on the issue of religious exemption for nursing homes and other healthcare workers that were not addressed in the state directive.
There are also eight health service workers currently classified as unvaccinated plus five who requested religious exemptions and one who requested medical exemption.
Health department workers face an Oct. 7 deadline to get their first dose of the vaccine under the state health department’s mandate.
County administrator Jack Searles said on Tuesday the county was offering the vaccine to all employees on all shifts until midnight Monday. Several employees took advantage of the last minute vaccination opportunity.
The county and its unions negotiated a memorandum of understanding on September 15 regarding the mandate to vaccinate healthcare workers. The parties agreed to a 60-day ineligibility leave without pay and to maintain health and dental insurance in effect. Employees could use vacation or other time off during the period. They will also continue to accumulate seniority.
Nursing home workers – unvaccinated and vaccinated – will continue to participate in testing twice a week.
Searles said county officials “strongly encouraged” employees to get vaccinated.
Nursing homes suspended new admissions earlier this month to see how the employee’s vaccination mandate would impact operations.
âWe started off with a much higher number,â Searles said. The number has been reduced to 13, with 29 other employees seeking religious or medical exemptions.
âWe’re always going to be understaffed at our facilities,â Searles said. Some employees, including licensed direct patient care staff, quit rather than get vaccinated.
The county hired three healthcare recruiting companies to help provide additional staff to Olean and Machias.
The MOU also provides for an increase of $ 5 per hour for eligible employees who continue to work, including overtime.
Searles said some employees who are not eligible to work in nursing homes could find employment in other county departments under a deal with the unions.
In addition, 65 county employees from other departments have volunteered to work shifts in nursing homes under overtime rules, Searles said.
According to Judge David Hurd’s rulings at the next hearing on the state’s lack of religious exemption in the state directive, the county may not be out of the woods just yet.
The county, he said, continues to compete with nursing homes, adult care facilities and assisted living facilities as well as other health facilities in the region for nurses and other employees.
Searles said county officials will have a conference call today with Gov. Kathy Hochul to discuss how the state can help counties and private nursing home operators across the state in the face of challenges. staff shortages during the vaccine tenure.
âMaybe we’ll learn more tomorrow,â Searles said.