Healthcare, custodial and maintenance staff represented by unions in the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) are extremely concerned that the precarious staffing shortages that existed long before COVID-19 could be dangerously exacerbated by even a fractional reduction of this workforce if the COVID-19 vaccination requirement deadline set by Governor Ned Lamont’s Executive Order 13G with respect to state hospitals and long-term care facilities is strictly applied on September 27th.
The state’s hospital and long-term care system is already operating at historically low staffing levels. Many caregivers have worked tirelessly through COVID-19, working multiple shifts under mandation — including several triple or quadruple shifts without a break, working at multiple facilities, and foregoing vacation days altogether. A fractional reduction of this workforce could prove to be extremely harmful for patients/clients and workers and as we try to restaff facilities with a small pool of certified candidates. Already vaccinated workers may bear the brunt of the hardship, being subjected to mandatory double and triple work shifts to cover for the shortages and protect the patients/clients who depend upon them. There are reports in some facilities that agency administrations are making preparations to consolidate or move residents in anticipation of the severe staffing shortages. Given the medically fragile nature of many of the individuals our members serve, transferring their residence is a potentially life-threatening action.
Thus, SEBAC requests that the Lamont Administration should plan for a flexible period post September 27th that allows for a temporary process of testing in lieu of vaccination in some of these workplaces to prevent putting patients, clients and workers at risk due to critical understaffing. This will allow the parties to cooperatively assess the levels of understaffing and displacement caused by the mandate and make the best informed decisions about how to cope in a way that protects patients/clients and the workers who care for them. Further, thousands of state workers, mostly in DMHAS, were informed on Monday, September 20 their worksites were included in the updated Executive Order 13G, meaning these workers only learned one week prior to the deadline that they were subject to a vaccine mandate without the testing out option that is available to most other public service workers.
SEBAC healthcare, custodial and maintenance workers recognize that vaccines are an important tool to reduce risk from this deadly virus and protect our communities. But we must also ensure the continuum of care for people who need services without causing an artificial short-staffing situation due to arbitrary deadlines. We will monitor the situation carefully and will ask that the administration adapt its executive order in response to critical staffing needs.