Tip Sheets

Vaccine mandate may usher in unpredictable staffing shortages

Hospitals and nursing homes in New York are bracing for the possibility that the statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers could lead to staff shortages when it takes effect today.

Ariel Avgar

Professor of labor relations, law and history and senior associate dean for outreach and sponsored research

Ariel Avgar is an associate professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and associate director with the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution. His research focuses on the impact of conflict on employees and employers.

Avgar says:

“The staffing implications of the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers needs to be understood in the context of existing shortages in the healthcare system. As with other dimensions of the pandemic, this effort to reduce infections through mandates highlights and exacerbates already existing recruitment and retention challenges throughout the state’s healthcare system. Nursing and healthcare professional shortages have long been a challenge that practitioners and policymakers needed to address. The past 18 months have, in many areas, pushed the system to the brink. The possibility of having even fewer healthcare professionals available to meet the system’s needs is, I’m sure, a daunting prospect for healthcare administrators.

Administrators will need to be strategic in the way they leverage existing staffing, focusing both on long- and short-term solutions. In the short term, healthcare organizations will need to consider use of overtime, adjustments to staffing patterns, and relaxation of licensing requirements. We know, however, that these adjustments are likely to exacerbate burnout and stress for an already fatigued workforce and are not always in line with high quality care. As such, policymakers should also leverage this crisis to address a problem that existed long before the pandemic by considering efforts to increase the supply of healthcare professionals, improve the quality of frontline healthcare jobs, and invest in organizational infrastructure designed to support workers.

One of the unique challenges of the potential staffing shortages associated with the vaccine mandate is the lack of predictability as to where these shortages will occur. Resistance to vaccination likely cuts across different healthcare occupations making it difficult for hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare organizations to properly plan and adapt. In addition, the staffing implications for rural and urban healthcare organizations is likely to be uneven placing an additional burden on healthcare systems that are already operating under enormous constraints.”

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