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Area hospitals lose 100+ unvaccinated workers after religious exemption ruling

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 4:52 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - On Monday, north country hospital systems lost more than 100 healthcare workers. Hold-outs against the state’s policy to be vaccinated against COVID-19, they were seeking religious exemptions. However, because of a court ruling, that doesn’t hold anymore.

Samaritan Medical Center’s staff pool got smaller Monday

“At that time, we actually did put 80 of our caregivers on administrative leave, giving them a week to determine what they wanted their future status to be here,” said Leslie DiStefano, director of communication and public relations, Samaritan Medical Center.

These healthcare workers were at first granted religious exemption from getting the COVID vaccine, but a federal appeals court blocked that ruling back in September.

At SMC, if workers do not provide proof of at least one dose by November 29, they will be terminated.

“I think it is very hard for any health system to have to push down something that is obviously impacting our workforce at a time of a national labor shortage that’s often difficult,” said DiStefano.

DiStefano says hospital officials have contingency plans in place for the next week while those who were put on leave make their decision. She says they will reevaluate in the coming weeks to see if short- or long-term replacements are needed.

At Lewis County Health System, officials say 20 employees were seeking religious exemptions.

As of Tuesday, the status varies as a handful did come forward to get the shot. But, 1 worker resigned, 2 were terminated and nearly 10 are on a short-term unpaid leave of absence.

The hospital is giving them until Friday to get vaccinated or they will be terminated.

The vice president of administration with St. Lawrence Health System tells 7 News that 32 staff members remained unvaccinated as of Monday and have parted ways with the organization.

He said in a statement, “Even though each of these losses are regrettable, it will have very little impact on St. Lawrence Health’s ability to provide quality care to our patients at Canton-Potsdam, Gouverneur, and Massena hospitals.

That statement is also true at River Hospital with a spokesperson saying a very small percentage of the system was affected and there will be no disruptions in services at this time.

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