ITHACA, N.Y.—According to multiple Cayuga Medical Center officials, while several workers could depart (or have already) as a result of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers, the hospital will not need state assistance to fill service needs.

CMC, the only hospital in Tompkins County, has a vaccination rate of 95 percent among its workers, according to VP of Public Relations John Turner. While New York State’s Department of Health lists Cayuga Medical Center at 87 percent vaccinated, Turner said that number isn’t current (the state says the list was last updated on Sept. 28, but has been known for less-than-exact reporting since it’s dealing with such a wide swath of organizations).

Turner claimed that CMC workers have gotten to a 95 percent vaccination rate, with the jump coming in advance of the vaccine mandate deadline of Sept. 27. In theory, that would show that a significant number of workers were motivated to get the vaccine due to the state-imposed deadline, which was announced by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month.

Turner would not specify exactly how many workers were impacted, noting that the religious exemption from the vaccine mandate is currently in legal flux. He said that after that issue is settled, the hospital will know exactly how many employees they will end up terminating, though Turner stated that “the number is small compared to the overall workforce.”

New York State Department of Health spokesperson Jeffrey Hammond said “Due to temporary court orders as part of pending litigation, the Department is temporarily barred from interfering with claims for religious exemptions.”

Medical exemptions are being accepted by the state regarding the healthcare worker mandate.

Regardless, with the vaccination rate so high among CMC workers, Turner and Cayuga Health System CEO Dr. Martin Stallone both assured that the hospital would not need to utilize state National Guard workers to fill gaps. Stallone said the vaccine requirement “will not seriously impact our health system operations.”

“Our team is doing a great job managing staff,” Turner said. “We do not anticipate needing New York State resources.”

With all that said, Stallone seemed to intentionally leave the door open for workers impacted by the vaccine mandate to return to CMC at some point, whether it be after they change their minds and receive the vaccine or once the pandemic ends—as unclear as that date may be.

“It is not easy to see employees leave our organization due to this mandate, we hope that those who have chosen to remain unvaccinated will rejoin our organization when this pandemic is over or if they change their mind,” Stallone said last week in a statement addressing the mandate deadline. “We value every person and their individual decisions regarding vaccination.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com