Several Adirondack Health employees resign over vaccine mandate
SARANAC LAKE — Several Adirondack Health employees resigned from the local hospital system this past weekend after refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Employees at health care facilities like Adirondack Health’s Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake are now required by the state to be vaccinated, and as of last Friday, 18 Adirondack Health employees who had previously been working on religious exemptions had not gotten their shots.
In September, seven Adirondack Health employees who did not apply for religious exemptions resigned or were fired as the state’s vaccine mandate took effect.
As of last Friday, 18 Adirondack Health employees claimed religious exemptions from the vaccine, Adirondack Health Spokesman Matt Scollin said, but this state exemption was rescinded and the deadline for them to get their shots was on Monday.
A majority of these people resigned from Adirondack Health over the weekend, he said. A few chose to get their first dose of the vaccine before the Monday deadline and keep their jobs, Scollin said.
“Once the deadline for religious exemptions became clear — the state said that was Monday — there were not more plays for time on anyone’s part,” Scollin said. “The state said this was the due-by date.”
At a protest across from Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake in September, several Adirondack Health employees explained why they did not want to get vaccinated. Their reasons ranged from concerns over how vaccines impact pregnancies, to unfounded allegations that there are toxic chemicals in the vaccine, to skepticism over vaccine mandates in general.
Many of the employees said they were frightened of losing their jobs, but they were more frightened of the vaccine.
The state Department of Labor has said that unvaccinated hospital workers are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits if they resign or are fired over a vaccine mandate without getting a doctor-approved request for medical accommodation.
Scollin said he would not give specific numbers of who resigned and who got their shots so the hospital does not identify anyone and reveal their vaccination status.
Some took one week of unpaid administrative leave. Scollin said these employees are eyeing pending state and federal court cases to allow them to keep their jobs, but they don’t have much time.
“There will not be a second week of unpaid administrative leave,” Scollin said.
He said a handful of employees — “less than five” — have medical exemptions from the vaccine. In these cases, Scollin said Adirondack Health makes accommodations for these employees to keep patients and other staff safe. They were moved to remote work if they had jobs which could be completed off-site, he said.
Scollin said it was difficult to see these resignations, but he said everyone was prepared for it.
“We’ve been doing this since September, so I don’t know if it was any more difficult than the other days,” he said. “Most of the individuals in question have had many conversations with our human resources department about this. They know their options.”
Scollin said these most recent resignations do not cause massive changes for Adirondack Health, but the company feels each loss.
“Every employee plays an important role in the work that Adirondack Health does and losing any employee for any amount of time makes the situation a little more complex,” he said.
Scollin said Adirondack Health employs nearly 1,000 people, including staff at all its facilities — Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, Mercy Living Center in Tupper Lake and the Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center — and per diem employees.
Two weeks ago, Adirondack Health CEO Aaron Kramer said 98% of the staff at Adirondack Medical Center and the Lake Placid Health and Medical Fitness Center were vaccinated; 95% of staff at Mercy were fully vaccinated and 97% had at least one dose.