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Nearly 300 Syracuse hospital staff face termination as religious vaccine exemption expires

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SYRACUSE N.Y. — Healthcare workers across Central New York have until midnight on Monday to show proof of vaccination or they won’t be able to come into work on Tuesday. CNY Central has learned that nearly 300 hospital staff in Syracuse will be impacted.

Many have used religious exemptions to continue working at hospitals and other medical facilities under a state mandate, but that option will soon expire.

On Monday morning, Crouse Hospital terminated 45 staff members, a St. Joseph’s Health spokesperson said 80 employees will be suspended without pay, and Upstate University Hospital says 153 staff members, including 69 nurses, will be terminated or suspended.

Upstate was recently forced to reduce staffed beds by 20% as they look to fill 400 open nursing positions.

In an open letter to the community, Upstate Hospital is urging everyone to get vaccinated, saying unvaccinated hospitalizations are contributing to extreme stress in the hospital.

When the state’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers took effect in September, some medical professionals sued, saying the vaccine would infringe on their religious beliefs.

“If you have a sincerely held religious belief that certain actions or requirements by an employer would violate those beliefs, you have a right to be exempt from those requirements,” said Attorney at Tully Rinckey, Melanie Franco.

After a court battle, those religious exemptions are no longer viable, but people who want the exemption are expected to keep fighting this in court.

“They’re not over yet,” said Franco. “It’s just that this temporary relief was not granted, and so the religious exemption is no longer in play for the vaccine mandate.”

President of the Healthcare Association of New York, Bea Grause monitors the staffing crisis at hospitals and is in full support of the vaccine mandate.

“Every single healthcare worker is critically important, losing any makes a difference,” said Grause.

When asked if the vaccine mandate is worth losing a number of employees, Grause says, “hospitals are not forcing anybody out, the employees have a choice, and they can choose to be vaccinated.”

Grause says getting everyone vaccinated is the only way out of the pandemic.

So far, Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker shows 7.72 billion doses have been administered, safely, worldwide.

Hospital staffing is an issue that studies show, has been years in the making, impacting hospitals across the country in states without vaccine mandates.

“I think about it from a patients’ perspective,” said Grause. “If my mother-in-law or my husband was going to the hospital, would I want someone who’s not vaccinated taking care of them? The answer is no.”

Currently, the medical exemption for the vaccine is still in effect, and some hospitals are allowing staff to work remotely without receiving the vaccine.

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