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Hospital maternity ward to be temporarily shut down after staff resigns over vax mandates

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An upstate New York hospital will stop delivering babies later this month, in part because employees have quit over a requirement they be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Six maternity staff members resigned from Lewis County General Hospital last week, worsening an existing staff shortage, the Watertown Daily Times reported. The department has seven other unvaccinated employees who also could decide to leave, hospital officials said.

"The number of resignations received leaves us no choice but to pause delivering babies at Lewis County General Hospital," the hospital's CEO Gerald Cayer said at a news conference Friday. "It is my hope that the [state] Department of Health will work with us in pausing the service rather than closing the maternity department."

The maternity-services "pause" will begin on September 25.

Cayer's announcement means there are even fewer options for women living in the area to deliver their baby. Lewis General is in Lowville and the nearest hospital is 20 minutes north in Carthage. The other option is 40 minutes northwest in Watertown. 

Top pediatrician at Texas Children's Hospital seeing "record numbers" of kids with COVID-19 04:32

Services in five other departments at Lewis County General also may have to be curtailed if staff members resign rather than be vaccinated, authorities said. 

Last month, New York state announced mandatory vaccinations for hospital and long-term care staff. State officials said 75% of New York's roughly 450,000 hospital workers have been vaccinated as of mid-August. The deadline for the remaining 25% is September 27.

About 165 unvaccinated employees, 73% of whom provide clinical services, have yet to declare their intention to stay or go, Cayer said. The county-owned health system employs about 650 people.

Cayer said 30 people have resigned since the vaccine mandate was announced, most of whom held clinical positions like nurses, therapists and technicians. Thirty others have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, he said.

"Essential health services are not at risk"

"Essential health services are not at risk because of the mandate," he said. "The mandate ensures we will have a healthy workforce and we are not responsible for [causing COVID-19] transmission in or out of our facilities." 

The Lewis County employees who chose to resign now join other hospital workers in Texas who've opted for the same path. More employees at Houston Methodist hospital have sued their employer over vaccine requirements. A federal judge later dismissed the suit, on the grounds that the hospital's mandate did not break any federal laws. 

Federal judge dismisses lawsuit over Houston hospital's vaccine requirement 00:38

The American Hospital Association, the nation's biggest hospital industry group, said it supports mandatory vaccinations for all health care workers. 

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