Healthcare provider considers mandatory vaccinations for employees

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POUGHKEEPSIE – Nuvance Health, the parent company of several Hudson Valley medical facilities including Vassar Brothers Medical Center (VBMC), Putnam Hospital, and Northern Dutchess Hospital, is moving towards a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all its employees.  The announcement was made in an email to staff on Thursday.

Dr. John Murphy, president and CEO of Nuvance Health, sent the email that says in part, “We are currently seeing an increase in hospitalizations across CT, NY, and the US due to the Delta variant in unvaccinated populations.”

In late June, Nuvance asked all employees to reveal their vaccination status, especially those employees who received the COVID-19 vaccination outside of the Nuvance Health system.  The request, according to Nuvance, was necessary to determine the vaccination rate throughout the organization.

The July 29 email included the statement, “The next step is to ensure that every Nuvance Health employee is vaccinated.”

The employees at the Hudson Valley hospitals are represented by unions including the New York State Nurses Association and the United Healthcare Workers Local 1199SEIU.  The unions have indicated that mandatory vaccinations are subject to negotiation and cannot be arbitrarily implemented.

Nuvance said, “Over the next few months, we will be moving towards mandating the COVID-19 vaccine through a thoughtful and considerate process,” while noting that the details are being discussed with representatives from the various unions.

NYSNA recently published a statement on mandatory vaccinations that include several factors required for a mandatory policy.  “COVID-19 vaccination cannot be relied upon as the sole intervention used for the prevention of COVID-19 transmissions in healthcare settings or in communities,” is one part of the organization’s position.

The union also stresses the need for adequate Personal Protective Equipment such as N95 masks.  “Conventional guidelines for airborne precautions must be restored at all hospitals. New N95 respirators must be made available for every patient care session with COVID-positive patients or PUIs. PPE will not be reused unless designed/manufactured to be decontaminated and reused.”

During the height of the pandemic, Vassar was accused of issuing used masks for staff.

Nuvance spokesperson John Nelson, Assistant Vice President, Community, Government, and Public Relations for the company responded to a Mid Hudson News request for details, reiterating Murphy’s email.  Nelson verified the plan for mandatory vaccinations, saying in part “Over the next few months, Nuvance Health will move toward mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for our workforce. Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid another surge of cases. We are committed to taking this step as other healthcare organizations, private employers and state and federal government agencies are doing the same.”

Nelson declined to provide information on any disciplinary actions that employees would face if they refuse to get the vaccine.

Garnet Health Medical Center, with hospitals in the Town of Wallkill and Harris has been requiring mask wearing all along since the pandemic hit, but spokesman Rob Lee said there has been no discussion to date about mandatory vaccinations among hospital staff.

The Westchester Medical Center Health Network  (WMCHealth) operates healthcare facilities throughout the Hudson Valley, “and does not mandate COVID-19 vaccination for its workforce at this time,” according to a statement released by WMCHealth, adding “but we continue to monitor guidance from county, state, and federal public health agencies regarding  COVID-19 vaccine requirements for healthcare personnel.” WMCHealth facilities are continuing to require mask use for all staff in active patient care areas. 

WMCHealth workforce members have direct access to COVID-19 vaccines and they have been able to provide at least one dose to 99% of WMCHealth workforce members who have asked to receive it.