At least 34,000 home health workers in New York appear to have missed a deadline to get vaccinated under a new state mandate, according to preliminary state data, rendering them unable to work and deepening a shortage of home health aides.
At the same time, the vaccination rate among home health workers as the deadline arrived on Thursday — 86 percent — exceeded the expectations of some union and industry leaders, and suggested that thousands of workers decided to get their first shot at the last minute to stay employed. Some industry leaders had predicted that as few as 70 percent of workers were likely to meet the deadline.
Faced with a similar cutoff the previous week, hospital and nursing home staff in New York accepted the shot in greater numbers than home health aides, who typically make just above minimum wage. About 92 percent of hospital and nursing home workers had received at least one shot when their deadline arrived on Sept. 27.
Though home health workers have largely been out of the spotlight during the pandemic, New York State has at least 250,000 of them, with some estimates rising to over 500,000. The deadline applied to employees of the state’s 1,500 licensed home health agencies. Another 30 percent of home health aides statewide were hired directly by patients through a Medicaid program and were not subject to the mandate.
New York had never before released data on what percentage of home health aides have been vaccinated, making it impossible to draw comparisons with the new numbers, which were released Friday.
The numbers came from a Department of Health survey of all licensed home care agencies, which asked them to report their vaccination levels on Thursday. Agencies representing some 245,000 workers responded. They reported that on average, 86 percent of their employees had been partially vaccinated and that 71 percent had been fully vaccinated.
The home health care work force in New York has suffered from sharp shortages that have only been intensified by the pandemic, as has been the case in other states. At the same time, demand for home care has risen as people have tried to keep their loved ones out of nursing homes, in part because of the poor conditions in homes that the pandemic exposed.
Though the loss of workers was not as steep as feared, some industry leaders warned that losing even 5 percent or 10 percent of aides in a field already suffering from a labor shortage could lead to the curtailment or elimination of care for thousands of patients. The losses might also create backlogs of patients at hospitals that typically discharge patients to home care, the leaders said.
Al Cardillo, president of the Home Care Association of New York State, said the percentages alone did not tell the whole story. Even some agencies with high vaccination rates were losing large numbers of employees that would be hard to replace, he said.
“I just received word from a New York City-area agency that today, to comply, had to remove 175 home health aides from service,” Mr. Cardillo wrote in an email. “And this is from an agency with a 94 percent vaccination rate among aides. One hundred seventy-five aides in one agency, on top of the emergency shortage that already exists, is just huge.”