Hospitals across the Capital Region require staff get vaccinated; St. Mary’s, Saratoga, Ellis

Ellis Hospital in Schenectady  in October 2020.

Ellis Hospital in Schenectady  in October 2020.

Across the Capital Region, more hospitals are requiring staff members to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Both Saratoga Hospital and St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam announced Monday new vaccine requirements for staff, following a growing trend among hospitals nationwide. Ellis Hospital in Schenectady told its staff Friday that they would be required to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 or face possible termination.

“One of our core values is safety, so we do everything we can to protect our community, that’s why we are doing this,” Phil Schwartz, a spokesperson for Ellis Hospital, said Monday. “With the Delta variant and all we see out there, it’s even more essential today that we are taking this step.”

Saratoga Hospital will require its staff to get vaccinated by Sept. 7 or submit to weekly testing for the COVID-19 virus, the hospital announced Monday. St. Mary’s Healthcare plans to impose it vaccine requirement on staff effective Oct. 1.

“It’s for the utmost safety of our patients, fellow staff and our community,” said Rick Hyde, spokesperson for St. Mary’s Healthcare. Hyde said hospital staff were notified of the new policy on Monday. He said currently 76 percent of St. Mary’s Healthcare employees have been vaccinated. 

At Saratoga Hospital staff who do not comply with the new policy will be placed on leave, according to the hospital’s announcement. The policy comes as a new wave of cases is growing across Saratoga County, which over the weekend announced it had reached a “high level of COVID-19 transmission” — with a test positivity rate of nearly 4.5 percent. 

Over a seven-day period, 240 new cases across Saratoga County were reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the county health services announced Saturday. Since June 6, around 40 percent of reported cases in the county have been among individuals ages 18-39 and another 10 percent of cases have occurred among kids ages 6-11, and around 89 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 were not vaccinated, according to the county.

Saratoga Hospital’s new policy, which goes into effect Sept. 7, will require hospital employees to provide proof of vaccination by the Sept. 7 deadline or start weekly testing. The policy does include some exemptions.  

“As Saratoga County’s only hospital and as a major employer, we owe it to patients and staff to do everything possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our facilities are safe for all who work here and rely on us for care,” Saratoga Hospital President and CEO Angelo Calbone said in a statement. 

Peter Hopper, a spokesperson for Saratoga Hospital, on Monday said 85 percent of the hospital’s staff were currently vaccinated. 

At Ellis Hospital — where staff and contractors are required to complete their vaccinations by Oct. 1 or face possible termination — staff were notified of the new policy Friday after weeks of work by an internal committee that reviewed the hospital’s vaccine policy, said Phil Schwartz, a spokesperson for Ellis Hospital. Schwartz said nearly 90 percent of Ellis staff have already been vaccinated. 

“Most people have just come in and voluntarily gotten the shot,” Schwartz said. 

Albany Medical Center Hospital, which has already offered the vaccine to all of its staff, said over 80 percent of its staff were currently vaccinated. Hospital employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 1. Exemptions and deferrals would be offered on a limited basis, but employees who did not comply would be terminated, according to the Albany-based hospital system. 

“The vaccines have proven to safely and effectively prevent COVID-19 and have reduced symptomatic infections and hospitalizations in breakthrough cases,” Albany Med said last week in announcing its new staff vaccine policy.

The Monday announcement from Saratoga Hospital noted that 90 hospitals and health systems across the country required vaccinations for their staff, a growing trend among hospitals nationwide.

The new staff vaccine requirements at Capital Region hospitals come at a tenuous moment in the course of the pandemic: case numbers have started to rise again and governments and public venues have started to reimpose masking requirements.

A collective of Capital Region performing arts venues on Monday announced a new mask requirement at all indoor venues, the latest sign of growing restrictions in the face of an uptick in new COVID-19 cases and concerns over the risk of the highly-contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Visitors and staff will be required to wear masks at all indoor venues for the following organizations: Proctors Collaborative, the Palace Theater, Saratoga Performing Art Center’s indoor venues, The Egg Performing Arts Center, Cafe Lena, Capital Repertory Theater and Albany Symphony Orchestra, among others. 

The Town of Niskayuna on Monday imposed a mask requirement for all visitors to Town Hall and other town facilities, regardless of vaccination status.

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