Nathan Littauer temporarily shuts Johnstown, Broadalbin sites over vaccine mandate staffing concerns

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GLOVERSVILLE – Nathan Littauer Hospital will be closing its Broadalbin and town of Johnstown primary care facilities temporarily as it determines how many employees it will lose for ignoring the COVID vaccine mandate.

It was a highly fluid situation, even Monday evening, but it appeared about three dozen Nathan Littauer workers would refuse to meet the state-imposed deadline of midnight Sept. 27 to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

To conserve support staff, Nathan Littauer will temporarily consolidate operations of the Broadalbin and Decker Street Johnstown centers into the Mayfield primary care center, spokeswoman Cheryl McGrattan said.

It was all but impossible to say Monday how many employees would miss the midnight deadline. McGrattan said at 4 p.m. that 43 employees were unvaccinated, then reported at 8 p.m. the total was down to 36 — with two claiming religious exemption from the mandate, bringing the total down to 34 as long as the religious exemption withstands a court challenge.

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Compounding the uncertainty, there’s a labor shortage that extends across the state and predates the vaccine deadline — Nathan Littauer can’t just hire three dozen replacements on short notice.

“The impact of any staff loss is hard-felt by a small hospital and nursing home,” McGrattan said via email. “We are no exception. However, Nathan Littauer is committed to continue providing high-quality, safe healthcare services to our community during these challenging times.”

The situation is managed day-to-day and even shift-to-shift, she said.

“We have been managing the impending staff shortage two ways; by reallocating resources as appropriate to meet immediate needs and by focusing on our long-range recruitment and retention” efforts, McGrattan said.

The hospital’s website advertises numerous positions it is trying to fill, ranging from advanced clinical roles to lesser-skilled supporting roles, many carrying hiring bonuses ranging from $500 to $10,000.

The situation at Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home is playing out on a larger scale across the state, with some facilities moving to limit elective procedures in case of staffing crises.

Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed the Sept. 27 vaccination deadline. His successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, maintained and even embraced the ultimatum to get at least the first shot by Monday.

On Saturday, she urged unvaccinated healthcare workers to get vaccinated, and announced a contingency plan to avert a crisis if a large number of these workers refused.

The plan included allowing recent graduates, retirees and healthcare professionals from other states and countries to provide care; deploying medically trained members of the National Guard; and requesting federal disaster medical assistance teams.

Late Monday morning, Hochul framed the midnight deadline as a means to decrease the spread of a disease that has killed more than 56,000 New Yorkers and increase public confidence in healthcare workers.

At a news conference, she said:

“Can’t we just say that that is a basic right that everyone has to know that they’ll be safe when they enter a healthcare facility or you have your elderly parents or grandparents in a nursing home that they will not get sick because of someone who’s charged with their care?”

When Hochul spoke at midday Monday, she said the number of unvaccinated workers who’ll be barred from working was unknown — there appeared to be an increased rate of vaccination during the day.

But on the other side of the equation, she’s pressing the fight in court to eliminate the religious exemption to the vaccine mandate, and she expects to win, which would create another group of healthcare workers forced to choose between jab and job.

Hospitals and nursing homes knew this day was coming, the governor said, and the state will work with them to address their needs.

Some facilities have already limited elective procedures as a preparation, she noted.

“It is not going to be a perfect situation, but again, it’s preventable,” Hochul said of the healthcare landscape in New York on Tuesday morning.

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By Paul Wager