Local health care centers not expecting mass walkouts over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

North Fork medical centers seem to have escaped the wave of resignations that has plagued some other New York hospitals, where staff have quit rather than comply with a state-issued vaccine mandate.

Employees at New York hospitals and long-term care facilities must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27, according to the state mandate. A hospital upstate announced earlier this month that it would halt maternity services after dozens of staff members quit rather than get vaccinated. 

A spokesperson at another New York hospital that saw 11 employees resign as of Sept. 14 noted the mandate has particularly impacted rural facilities.

Although North Fork medical centers have seen some resignations, many seem to have escaped the brunt of vaccine-related walkouts. Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport has not seen a significant impact to staffing levels, a spokesperson for the hospital said in an emailed statement. 

“We are continually monitoring the situation to optimize preparedness and make adjustments as necessary,” the email said. 

Peconic Bay Medical Center similarly hasn’t seen a significant impact to staffing, although executive director Amy Loeb said a few employees have quit.

“There are a few who are not supportive and prefer not to be vaccinated, if you will, but that is the minority,” she said. 

More than 80% of staff at the medical center have been vaccinated and that number continues to rise, according to Ms. Loeb.

Peconic Landing has not suffered from staffing shortages due to the mandate either. Leadership at the Greenport retirement community has “had many conversations, many educational opportunities, one-on-one discussions” with team members about the vaccine, chief operating officer Greg Garrett said. 

“When the vaccine mandate first came out, there was a lot of concern, a lot of questions and a lot of unknowns,” he said, adding that he anticipates most staff will be vaccinated by the Sept. 27 deadline. He noted, however, that the facility has already lost a few people due to the mandate and may lose a few more when the cutoff rolls around next week.

“We had some folks that we thought may not get vaccinated, but we’ve had one-on-one conversations with them and talked with them. They’re very happy with Peconic Landing … [and are] very committed to our members, and many of those folks are now choosing to be vaccinated,” Mr. Garrett said.

More than 80% of team members at Peconic Landing are vaccinated, a number that will likely rise over the next few days, according to Mr. Garrett. “We’re beating state averages,” CEO and president Bob Syron added.

He emphasized that some staff have expressed hesitancy about the vaccine because of medical conditions. “There’s some people that have legitimate reasons as to why they’re concerned about getting it at this time,” he said. 

San Simeon by the Sound is not concerned about losing staff because of the vaccine mandate — as of Sept. 17, about 90% of employees were vaccinated and only two per diem workers had protested the vaccine — but the facility is concerned about a chronic staff shortage that’s only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

“I preach to my managers here that we’ve got to kind of be like Disneyland now. You’ve got to be the happiest place on earth for all the workers,” said Steven Smyth, executive vice president and administrator.

The Greenport nursing and rehabilitation center has raised salaries “incredible amounts, despite financial losses” and offered bonuses for sign-ons, retention and referrals. “You really try to do what you can to keep people here and keep them happy,” Mr. Smyth said.

Although Peconic Landing has also suffered from industry-wide staffing shortages outside of the vaccine mandate, Mr. Garrett said the facility has seen a “positive momentum” in hiring since enhanced unemployment benefits ran out. 

“We have experienced staffing challenges and recruiting challenges but we have a very strong core team and a very strong leadership team and we’ve been able to work through that,” he said. 

Mr. Syron pointed out the high cost of living in the area as an added challenge to staffing levels, and emphasized that “a strong culture here of valuing our employees” at the facility has helped with retention.

“In these times, we all roll our sleeves up, we pitch in, we work together — leadership alongside our front-line staff — and we’re pulling through it,” he said. Peconic Landing is also offering referral and hiring bonuses. 

Mr. Syron added that people should get vaccinated against COVID-19. “That’s really what will stop this pandemic in the end, or take it down to a trickle,” he said.