OLEAN – At last count, 62% of employees at Pines Nursing Home in Cattaraugus County had been vaccinated against COVID-19 as mandated by the New York State Department of Health on Monday at midnight.
This could represent as many as 100 employees spread across both Olean and Machias Pines, including an unknown number of certified nurses and orderlies.
“Cattaraugus County continues to encourage employees at its Pines nursing home to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” county administrator Jack Searles said on Friday. “There are immunization clinics today and again on Monday to try to encourage people to get the vaccine.”
Searles said: “We have until the end of Monday to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
County nursing homes have suspended all new admissions until the impact of the vaccination mandate on nursing home staff is clear.
The Cattaraugus County Legislature has allowed County Attorney Ashley Milliman to take legal action to try to block the warrant.
A federal judge in Utica issued a temporary restraining order on September 15 to prevent the state from enforcing the vaccination mandate for healthcare workers on the grounds that it violated their constitutional rights because it did not there was no religious exemption. Arguments in the case will be heard on Tuesday.
Searles said there appears to be a disconnect with the reporting of vaccinated nursing home workers on the state’s website.
âSome employees come to our clinics or show up with vaccination certificates,â Searles said. “We probably won’t know the number of nursing home workers who are vaccinated until after midnight Monday.”
Searles said he does not have the current number or percentage of county nursing home workers who are vaccinated. Nursing home workers are expected to have their first injection no later than Monday. Health service workers must have their first injection before October 7.
âThe number changes every day,â he said. âI believe we are much better than the state website shows. Monday we will be much better. There has been constant improvement. We are progressing.
Deputy Administrator Kelly Reed, who oversees county nursing homes as the nursing home administrator, was unavailable for comment.
âWe still believe there should have been at least one religious option to the vaccination mandate,â Searles said.
This could be decided as early as Tuesday in the Federal Court of Utica.
Searles said the county was disappointed the state had not allowed the vaccine requirement to be withdrawn for frequent testing. âWe’ve been doing it for a year and a half. It succeeded. It is not fair to ignore the concept of testing altogether.
This is what is creating the current crisis in other nursing homes and hospitals across the state, Searles said. âOther places, including the school, have an option to opt out of testing. The only standard we are held to is the vaccination rate. We did not have due process here. It is a mandate that is imposed on us and that is unconstitutional. We will continue to pursue our legal action with New York State on this matter. “
Searles added, âIn the meantime, we will do everything in our power to encourage people to get vaccinated. I expect a number of people will not (get vaccinated).
The state Department of Health’s vaccine guidelines for nursing home employees allow for a medical exemption that must be signed by a physician or medical assistant.
Searles said that, under the directive, if a nursing home employee chooses not to be vaccinated against COVID-19, “they will not be allowed to work in the facility.”
Searles said the nursing home administration “supports shift changes.” Nursing homes operate 24/7 with three shifts. The county has hired at least three companies that hire healthcare workers, including registered nurses, for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
âThings are changing quickly,â Searles said. âWe’re making a lot of progress, but we’re not done yet. We have not been able to recruit additional staff to work at our facilities. Health is a profession in demand. We are in open competition with all other medical providers in the region and region. “
Searles said the county’s first effort was to use its own staff in nursing homes. âIf I have a low-staffed shift, I still have to provide quality service. “
County officials are working with union members on impact negotiations, Searles said. “The intention is to preserve individuals as county employees for as long as we can.”