ALBANY, NY – Due to the longstanding staffing shortages in Upstate New York hospitals, exacerbated by the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and COVID-19 itself, the Iroquois Healthcare Alliance (IHA), representing 50 member hospitals and health systems located in 32 counties of Upstate New York, strongly urges the Department of Health to delay the promulgation of regulations and implementation of Chapter 155 of the Laws of 2021 and Chapter 156 of the Laws of 2021 related to hospital and nursing home staffing ratios.

“Health care delivery systems across Upstate New York have long sought the state’s assistance in addressing recruitment and retention concerns they have been living with. While some steps have been taken there is a great deal more work to be done. These new staffing laws will easily overwhelm and adversely impact hospitals in our membership, particularly critical access hospitals, sole community hospitals, and hospitals with affiliated nursing homes,” said IHA President & CEO Gary J. Fitzgerald.

This is especially true given the impact of the state’s vaccine mandate and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ order striking down a temporary injunction allowing for a religious exemption that will further add stress to Upstate hospitals.

“The current workforce crisis facing hospitals across Upstate New York is dire,” continued Fitzgerald. “IHA members wish for nothing more than to access a robust labor pool that would allow them to meet such ratios. The obvious fact remains that recruitment and retention of these workers in Upstate New York is difficult at best. These mandates lack adequate safety valves necessary to account for the unique circumstances faced by Upstate hospitals. In addition, they overlook the scarcity of available labor to fill long vacant positions across Upstate.”
IHA has raised concerns with mandated staffing ratios for many years, and believes that these new laws open the door, widely, to a future of unattainable staffing levels.

“Hospitals and health systems in Upstate New York were experiencing workforce shortages prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 2,300 vacancies for registered nurses in hospitals and health systems from Albany to Buffalo,” added Fitzgerald. “Additional unanticipated workforce challenges such as the vaccine mandate and now the court ruling against the religious exemption have exponentially exacerbated hospitals’ workforce shortages.”

As the table below illustrates, position vacancy rates in Upstate New York hospitals were approximately 6% for registered nurse positions and all positions in 2015. From 2016 to 2019, registered nurse vacancy rates increased to 8% – 10%. Since the pandemic began in 2020, registered nurse vacancy rates have increased significantly and are currently at almost at 16%. This is coupled with a doubling of vacancy rates in just one year from approximately 7% in 2020 to currently over 14% for all positions. These increases in position vacancies are placing a tremendous strain on the Upstate New York health care system.

IHA has led the charge to address the issues raised by these well-meaning policies. Unfortunately, these new policies miss the mark. Several weeks ago IHA sent a letter to DOH and the legislature urging a delay in the implementation of these new laws and regulations. IHA also suggested that any regulations resulting from these laws contain safety valve language clarifying that they should not penalize hospitals and nursing homes where there are significant and longstanding workforce shortages, and language that recognizes the unique circumstances found in critical access/sole community hospitals whose size alone does not allow for this type of mandated staffing committee structure process.