The New Staffing Law You Need to Know

The New Staffing Law You Need to Know

Just days ago on June 18, Governor Cuomo signed two bills into law that will change the day-to-day practice for New York hospital and nursing home workers. This new legislation establishes minimum staffing levels for hospitals and nursing homes, asserting understaffing practices at some facilities contributed to COVID-19 infections and deaths. The health care staffing bills are the result of years of debate and discussion and have been highly anticipated by many medical staff members who face physical and mental burn-out after more than a year of unprecedented loss, and immeasurable challenges. For many, it feels like some relief is finally on the way, and for facilities statewide, it means changes are in order immediately to rise to the occasion and properly staff sites.

One bill establishes minimum staffing hours per resident and related provisions for nursing home care statewide.

It comes after more than 13,000 New Yorkers died from COVID-19 complications in long-term care facilities. Nationwide, deaths among Medicare patients in nursing homes soared by 32% last year, with two devastating spikes eight months apart, a government watchdog reported Tuesday. The report from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services found that about 4 in 10 Medicare recipients in nursing homes had or likely had COVID-19 in 2020 and that deaths overall jumped by 169,291 from the previous year before the coronavirus appeared.

The other bill requires each New York hospital to establish a committee of nurses and administrators by January 1, 2022, to devise a staffing plan.

It must include specific guidelines or ratios, matrices, or grids indicating how many patients are assigned to each nurse and the number of ancillary staff in each unit. The registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and ancillary staff shall be selected by the staff members themselves. Regardless of the number of committee members, the clinical staff shall have 50 percent of the committee’s votes, with hospital administrators the other 50 percent. Staff advocates view this new law as a critical step in giving voices to the frontline workers who have been confronted with this deadly disease over the past two years. The measure was applauded by the New York State Nurses Association, the labor group that represents nurses in hospitals across the state. “When hospitals and nursing homes fail to staff to safe standards, it’s the patients and residents who suffer,” said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, the group’s president. “These new laws have the potential to significantly improve the quality of care, to prevent the serious complications that result from understaffing, and to begin to address the gross inequities that exist in our health care system.”

If your facility doesn’t comply, you could face steep fines and violations.

The Health Department is responsible for investigating potential violations of the staffing plan requirements or any unresolved complaints made to the staffing committees. The laws also include provisions to make staffing data publicly available to staff and patients. Hospitals and nursing home facilities alike may be subject to civil penalties for failing to remedy violations if the violations were caused by their failure to act. The time is now to take action and create comprehensive plans that comply with these new requirements.

Sources: Governor.ny, Healthcare Dive, US News

School’s Out for Summer, but are you Staying Connected?

School’s Out for Summer, but are you Staying Connected?

It’s the start of summer, and you know what that means! Your staff has officially survived one of the craziest and most challenging years educators have faced in modern history. Sure, there were probably some tears (and not just from the students) but there was also a lot of flexibility, adaptability, and teamwork. It’s an accomplishment worth celebrating. One of the many challenges of the past calendar year was finding innovative ways to effectively communicate with students and with their parents. For some Hudson Valley school districts, this meant rolling up your sleeves and getting creative. Some schools leaned into the virtual world. Others made a point to ramp up email communications with parents. Regular check-ins on YouTube became the norm for other districts, and some built out their social media presence to stay connected. Now that the dog days of summer are finally here, what does this mean for communication with your students and parents? Students who know and feel known by their teachers are more likely to work hard, behave well, and be open to new ideas. Similarly, families who feel connected to the school are more likely to support the school’s mission and teachers. Your staff worked diligently all year to build and nurture relationships with students and their families. Why stop over the summer?

Encourage Summer School Enrollment, and Attendance

Millions of children this summer will participate in what’s expected to be the largest summer-school program in history, powered by more than $1.2 billion in targeted federal post-pandemic assistance from the American Rescue Plan. After a school year in which many of the nation’s approximately 56 million K-12 students struggled through some form of remote learning, lost classroom days, and social isolation, summer 2021 programs face the daunting task of teaching academics, while also addressing mental health challenges among students. Many will also be confronted with the nutrition issues children face who missed out on weeks or months of school meals. “We need summer school to be really something different than it has been before. It can’t just be about remediation. It has to be about helping kids get their mojo back,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers union. “This is not about cramming, not about all of a sudden taking 10 months of algebra and putting it into six weeks and collapsing it all together and saying that’s school. This year, it’s about really trying to help kids recover academically, emotionally and socially,” said Weingarten. “And what we’ve learned is that if you help them recover emotionally and socially, it will help them recover academically.”

Stay Connected

Just because you aren’t able to check in with your students daily, doesn’t mean communication has to be cut off until the fall. While it is equally as important for teachers and staff to recharge and unplug after a stressful year, it’s critical to check in with students, particularly ones you are concerned could fall further behind in the COVID-19 learning gap, without proper attention. Reaching out online, via email, over the phone, or even committing to approved in-person home visits with another trusted staff member could be viable options. Many kids are dealing with a multitude of factors working against them as they face months without formal learning opportunities or school structure. Some may also face technology gaps at home, hindering their ability to keep up with summer reading projects or other classroom skills. Consider reaching out with a list of local Hudson Valley resources that kids and parents can take advantage of, free of charge. This site is a fantastic local resource for parents and children to sift through free and at-cost programs kids can attend throughout Hudson Valley all summer long.

It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for students in different districts with different levels of needs, but having a conversation about what will benefit your students is the first step in a positive direction. What works for one school—or one individual class—may be completely different from the requirements of another. At RBT, we are committed to keeping education professionals informed of important updates that may impact your future planning. We extend a no-cost consultation to anyone with further questions or interest in working with our dedicated team of professionals.

Sources: Hudson Valley, USAToday

Celebrating National Safety Month

Celebrating National Safety Month

Each year, the National Safety Council (NSC) designates June as National Safety Month. This year, safety in and out of the workplace has been top-of-mind for most of the world because of COVID-19. But while your frontline heroes have been working 24/7 to prioritize your patients and the mounting needs of your community throughout the pandemic, has upper management been checking in with staff?

The NSC reminds organizations that part of being safe is taking care of the physical and mental wellbeing of your workers. It is understandable that during increased times of stress (like a pandemic for instance), it can be more difficult to handle day-to-day activities. It is also important to note that increased levels of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety can also potentially lead to an increase in substance misuse or substance use disorders and an increase in absenteeism.

Below is a guideline you can follow from the NSC to break the month into weekly topics for your team. Consider meeting once a week either in-person or via Zoom to review these topics and spark transformative conversations. Remember, the more in tune you are with your team, the higher employee satisfaction is bound to be. The result? A more positive and productive work environment, and invaluable savings in new-hire training thanks to lower burn-out and turn-over rates. Even as New York begins to get infection rates under control, and COVID-19 related hospitalizations dwindle, the healthcare industry continues to face immense pressure and stress. Make it your job to lighten the load for your staff and show some additional compassion.

Week 1 – Prevent Incidents before They Start: Identifying risks and taking proactive safety measures to reduce hazard exposure is crucial to creating a safe workplace.

Week 2 – Address Ongoing COVID-19 Safety Concerns: As the pandemic continues, employers play an important role in expanding operations and returning remote workers to physical workspaces, building trust around vaccines, supporting mental health and so much more.

Week 3 – It’s Vital to Feel Safe on the Job: Being able to be one’s self at work without fear of retaliation is necessary for an inclusive safety culture. Leading organizations focus not only on physical safety but psychological safety as well.

Week 4 – Advance Your Safety Journey: Safety is all about continuous improvement. Whether organizationally or individually, what can your organization do to advance your path forward?

Another way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Safety Month is to select one safety hero per week to highlight within your team. This can be anyone from cafeteria staff to an E.R. doctor or a member of your administration who demonstrates safety at work and inspires others around them. Consider treating them to lunch, offering them a few hours of PTO, or finding another way to express your gratitude to them. Their actions can set a chain reaction for your other team members to model future behavior off of. Bonus? It illustrates to your organization that upper management cares, recognizes, and rewards high standards. At RBT, we pride ourselves on assisting healthcare professionals to build more sustainable organizations with our comprehensive services. But most importantly, we aim to pass along useful, relevant information to help our communities succeed, grow and prosper. As we continue to dedicate time and resources to help our healthcare clients achieve success, we look forward to connecting with you and your team.

Post-Pandemic School Trend Tracker

Post-Pandemic School Trend Tracker

Over the past several years, the homeschool population had been growing at an estimated 2% to 8% annually, but no one anticipated the explosion of remote learning that came with the pandemic. Whether you are an administrator, a teacher, a parent, a student, or some combination of those roles, there were growing pains felt throughout the education world. Communication breakdowns, bandwidth inequality, homework gaps, you name it and school districts did their best to navigate it. As a majority of schools announce they will resume full in-person learning this fall, we want to take a look at the trends that may be here to stay. After all, the pandemic forced us out of our comfort zones, pushed us to innovate, and challenged us to fail forward.

Remote learning will continue to bridge emergency closures.

We know, “Zoom fatigue” is real, but video conferencing will continue to allow student-teacher and peer-to-peer relationships to remain uninterrupted during future emergency closure situations when distance learning is the only option.

Schools will embrace more creative solutions.

The pandemic provided an ideal scenario to break away from stagnant practices and try new approaches. When face-to-face learning wasn’t an option, passionate educators created school spirit videos, planned drive-by graduations, and prompted virtual events to keep family members all over the world connected to our kids’ achievements. Those approaches helped boost morale, maintain traditions, and strengthen community belonging during extended school closures.

Parents and schools will communicate more, and (hopefully) more effectively.

The frustration was real on both sides, but the forced pivot to distance learning also had a welcomed effect: parents and educators felt more connected as communication increased. Gradually, appreciation grew for one another’s challenges and successes. Educators have commented that it’s one of the more positive trends they hope continues years after the pandemic has ended.

More college students will stay remote.

According to a report from Best Colleges, 49% of students who are enrolled in online classes plan to continue, even after their campuses return to in-person coursework, demonstrating how many students appreciate the distance learning environment.

Distance learning options will remain (at least for some).

Recent information collected by educationdata.org shows that 33% of college and trade school admins are planning to offer both online and offline education choices for students, even after governments ease up on social distancing requirements. If you plan to teach at this level, you’ll almost certainly need to stay up to date on the latest remote teaching developments.

More schools will officially embrace the Cloud.

You can’t teach a class without being able to share resources. Files stored in a secure, cloud-based location are fully customizable so you can set exactly who you want to be able to see and edit particular files. Another feature of cloud storage services is that multiple people can work on documents at once—perfect for getting students engaged in group-based activities or collaborations.

Final Thought

It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to education. What works for one school—or one individual class—may be completely different from the requirements of another. Inevitably, schools and local and state governments will also need to address the barriers to internet access so remote learning assignments can be accessed by all students. At RBT, we are committed to keeping education professionals informed of important updates that may impact your future planning. We extend a no-cost consultation to anyone with further questions or interest in working with our dedicated team of professionals.

 

Sources: K12Dive, ELearning, Nheri.org

Police Reform: Did Your Community Miss the Executive Order 203 Deadline?

Police Reform: Did Your Community Miss the Executive Order 203 Deadline

On August 17, 2020, Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 203 – the ‘New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative’ which mandates that police departments in every municipality in the state come up with a list of reforms they plan to implement, or risk losing state and federal funding. In response, many municipalities are creating Police Reform and Reinvention Committees, but still, others have failed to submit their plan to the State Budget Director by the April 1, 2021 deadline. If your municipality has not yet formed a plan to address this order, read on to see if you need to act now.

What Police Entities are Subject to EO 203?

This process is only for local governments that have police agencies operating with police officers. New York State defines police officers under Criminal Procedure Law Section 1.20. For most counties, the majority of employees with police powers are within the Sherriff’s Department. However, it is important to review this summary which includes a police power list to see if your county has any agencies that would be subject to this process, plan review, and adoption.

EO 203 Overview:

1) Review: EO 203 calls on any local government policing entity to perform a review of current “police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices.”

2) Plan Development: In coordination of such review, the local government “Chief Executive” of any local government with a local police agency must “convene the head of the local police agency, and “stakeholders” in the community to develop such plan. The stakeholders must be consulted with and allowed to make plan recommendations.

3) Adoption or Ratification of Plan: Such plan must be offered for public comment to all citizens in the locality, and after consideration of such comments, shall be presented to the local legislative body in such political subdivision, which shall ratify or adopt such plan by local law or resolution, as appropriate, no later than April 1, 2021.

4) Submit Plan to DOB: Such local government shall transmit a certification to the Director of the Division of the Budget to affirm that such process has been complied with and such local law or resolution has been adopted.

Getting Started

It’s been a tremendously challenging year for everyone, and we understand first responders and elected officials are under a lot of pressure. Ultimately, everyone will benefit from fostering a culture of self-evaluation, empathy, and caring for one another. If you feel overwhelmed or unsure how to begin this process, we suggest inviting residents to participate in a Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Survey as a way to give the community a voice and start a thoughtful dialogue with members and leaders of your local police department, and elected officials. Be sure to advertise your plans on various social platforms to spread the word and boost engagement. Statewide, many municipalities have been able to generate valuable data and insight to plan future efforts. It is important to note that several attorneys authored a letter addressed to the governor that attracted over 300 signatures calling for the EO 203 April 1 deadline to be extended. In a statement, the governor’s office said that the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services “has been proactively reaching out to law enforcement leadership across the state to help support them…in achieving the goals of the executive order.” And that the “division of the budget will review that municipalities have, in fact, complied with the law.” We understand this is a complex and sensitive issue for many communities. We encourage you to contact our team today if you have concerns about how this executive order could impact your federal funding, or other questions surrounding the unique factors that impact the government sector.

Sources: Governor.NY.GOV, Spectrum

Weight of the World Helping Healthcare Workers Cope with Covid-19

Weight of the World Helping Healthcare Workers Cope with Covid-19

The pandemic continues to present endless challenges for the healthcare industry.

Many of the same essential workers who helped keep organizations afloat, or found themselves unemployed are now feeling depleted or overwhelmed. While mental health affects many different people, it’s no surprise that the past year and a half have created a worrisome picture for frontline healthcare worker’s mental health. While this is an unsettling reality to confront, consider using this May Mental Health Awareness Month as an opportunity to shed light on challenging issues and improve the lives of your team members.

From June-September 2020, Mental Health America (MHA) surveyed healthcare workers to help support their mental health as they continue to provide care. The responses collected from over 1,000 healthcare workers surveyed indicated that they are:

  • Stressed out and stretched too thin: 93% of healthcare workers were stressed, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, and 76% reported exhaustion and burnout.
  • Worried about exposing loved ones: 76% of healthcare workers with children worried about exposing their child to COVID-19, nearly half worried about exposing their spouse, and 47% worried that they would expose older adult family member(s).
  • Emotionally and physically exhausted: Emotional exhaustion was the most common answer for changes in how healthcare workers were feeling over the previous three months (82%), followed by trouble with sleep (70%), physical exhaustion (68%), and work-related dread (63%).
  • Not getting enough emotional support: 39% of healthcare workers said that they did not feel like they had adequate emotional support.

Mental Health Awareness Month can act as a catalyst for starting hard conversations and effecting lasting change.

Start conversations about how the pandemic is affecting work; communicate clear expectations; anticipate behavior changes, (such as irritation, anger, increased sadness, or trouble concentrating) and ensure that there is a system in place to identify and provide mental health services to those in need. Did you know the productivity costs of health issues due to decreased performance cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year? It’s not too late to support your team, increase morale and productivity, and ultimately prevent a tragedy. To pave the way for a healthier, happier work environment, consider integrating the following approaches:

Oversee focus groups of 10-15 people who represent critical groups within the company and perform in-depth interviews with key influencers like HR directors, safety directors, and others.

Teach coping skills for life’s challenges from new employee onboarding, to supervisor training, to executive coaching, to ongoing wellness workshops – these skills help employees at all levels integrate mental health into their lives and break down stigmas about seeking help. In-person or digital workshop completion can be incentivized as part of a wellness contest among teams or to meet health insurance engagement goals.

Develop a “buddy check program” that encompasses more than just physical safety. A formal peer support program is one of the best ways to promote a caring culture. In fact, many military and first responder communities have discovered this type of program is the key to building a link in the chain of survival.

Social stigmas perpetuating the notion that these workers are supposed to be tough, and remain calm during a crisis creates a perfect storm for workers to fall victim to this silent epidemic.

Dangerous stereotypes can leave healthcare workers ill-equipped to seek help before it’s too late. A common aspirational safety culture goal is “Zero Incidents,” but ironically, few have paused to consider mental wellness. Often, our reluctance to discuss mental health issues stems from fear. Providing accessible educational opportunities can help to replace fear with a sense of community and hope. Start conversations to help employees feel supported, and comfortable sharing personal challenges. Distributing materials like the MHA Frontline Workers Resource or this list of resources from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can be a first step in the right direction. Another suggestion? Openly encourage employee participation in training courses like Mental Health First-Aid which covers issues related to mental health and substance abuse. At RBT, we pride ourselves on assisting healthcare professionals to build more sustainable organizations with our comprehensive services. But most importantly, we aim to pass along useful, relevant information to help our communities succeed, grow and prosper. As we continue to dedicate time and resources to help our healthcare clients achieve success, we look forward to connecting with you and your team.

Sources: Youth, Salley Spencer-Thomas & Cal Beyer, FDA, MHA, CDC

Trade School Trends

Trade School Trends

Over a year into the coronavirus crisis, many high school seniors have dramatically changed their expectations about the future. A recent survey of high school students found that the likelihood of attending a four-year school sank nearly 20% in the last eight months — down to 53%, from 71%, according to ECMC Group, a nonprofit aimed at helping student borrowers. Gone are the days that a college degree is the only path to success, and many families across the country are turning to trade schools to develop fulfilling, rewarding, and cost-effective career building.

At the center of a heated issue for several years, is the cost of higher education. Going to college in the U.S. is increasingly unaffordable, leaving millions in debilitating debt. As of 2020, the total student debt in the U.S. amounts to a whopping $1.68 trillion. Prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at public colleges and universities rose by 31% from 2007 to 2017. The average annual tuition fees at private universities amounted to $35,380 for the 2018-2019 academic year. Taking into consideration the costs of room and board, the total becomes $48,510 annually. For public colleges and universities, the annual costs of tuition amount to $10,230 per year. With room and board, in-state college students can expect total costs to rise to $21,370, with the cost climbing $10,000 higher for out-of-state college students. Although a college education is certainly still necessary for specific careers, other career paths now require specialized training in technology that bachelor’s programs are typically too broad to address. As the infrastructure, construction, and transportation fields grow, four-year degrees are becoming less of a necessity, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau has projected that between 2014 and 2024, the construction sector will add 790,400 jobs, reaching more than 6.9 million people.

Alternative educational programs can address the issue of declining student engagement. In many states, standard high schools are being replaced by alternative career and technical education (CTE) programs, or trade schools. These programs provide a hands-on learning experience and ease students’ transition into the workforce by providing critical job placement assistance services. Students opting for trade school can choose from a variety of career tracks, from health science, and hospitality, to STEM, and construction. Currently, 77% of high school students participate in CTE programs. Perhaps not surprisingly, trade schools usually have better graduation and job placement numbers when compared to traditional four-year universities. While almost 40% of first-time students at four-year institutions fail to graduate within six years, most trade schools can boast higher completion rates than 40%. Luckily here in the Hudson Valley, we have a plethora of BOCES opportunities stretching from the Capital District including Albany and Troy to Dutchess, Orange, Putman, Rensselaer, Rockland, Ulster, and Westchester Counties. Trade schools have shorter programs that can normally be completed in two years, and many trade schools offer certificate programs that students can complete in less than a year – making this an attractive, time-efficient option for many.

We know that decisions surrounding higher education are extremely personal decisions for each student. Regardless of the path that lies ahead for the next generation of young people, knowledge to unlock the various paths to successful futures is key to creating an adaptable, dynamic New York economy. At RBT, we are committed to keeping education professionals informed of important updates that may impact your financial planning. We extend a no-cost consultation to anyone with further questions or interest in working with our dedicated team of professionals.

Sources: James Martin Center, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Guide2Research, CNBC, NCES

The Future of Telehealth

Telehealth can help practices run more smoothly and efficiently, increase access to needed treatment for individuals in remote areas, and expand the reach of professional services. Plus, research finds that when done right, this format can improve employee productivity, creativity, and morale – things we all appreciate as we continue facing increased pandemic pressure. In a recent Healthcare Business Today article, senior solution marketing manager at Interlace Health, Dessiree Paoli highlighted some of the main lessons we have learned in the recent telehealth revolution. Below, we would like to share her expertise, and offer insight into how your team can consider these important factors as you build future business plans.

  • Telehealth goes beyond virtual visits. While virtual visits are one of the most well-known aspects of telehealth, they’re only the tip of the iceberg regarding what the service can accomplish. Telehealth offers a range of electronic health solutions that cover the entire continuum of care. For example, remote monitoring and patient portals enable providers to take a proactive approach to patient care in ways that traditional health services simply cannot. To harness telehealth’s full power, healthcare organizations will need to rethink all of their processes through a digital lens.
  • Virtual care saves lives. Telehealth visits limit exposure to COVID-19 for patients and healthcare workers alike, but remote monitoring technology can also go a long way in treating contagious patients without risking lives. When Sheba Medical Center in Israel was tasked with caring for exposed passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise, staff members set up a field hospital within three days that monitored infected patients remotely; they even had a robotic telemedicine cart patients could use to connect with caregivers easily. Imagine what might have been possible with more than three days’ notice, and you have a glimpse into how massive telehealth’s impact on patient care can be.
  • More work needs to be done on infrastructure. Many healthcare organizations had to hit the ground running to meet the sudden demand for telehealth, which means that many organizations will need to improve their offerings for the future. Going forward, healthcare organizations must find ways to blend digital solutions with existing processes and to create user-friendly methods for patients to access their data and communicate with their doctors.

While the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is responsible for enforcing certain regulations issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), they are making clear that covered health care providers may use popular applications that allow for video chats, including Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, Zoom, or Skype, to provide telehealth without the risk that OCR might seek to impose a penalty for non-compliance with the HIPAA Rules related to the good faith provision of telehealth during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency. Providers are encouraged to notify patients that these third-party applications potentially introduce privacy risks, and providers should enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using such applications. Under this Notice, however, Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar video communication applications are public-facing, and should not be used in the provision of telehealth by covered health care providers.

If you’re interested in expanding telehealth opportunities to your clients but unsure where to begin, consider researching tele-behavioral certification programs for your team. The American Board of Telehealth (ABT) recently launched the CORE Concepts in Telehealth Certificate, which was developed by a group of nationally renowned experts with funding provided by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The comprehensive curriculum consists of seven timely and highly relevant training modules, including:

● Introduction to Telehealth
● Telepresence Skills
● Technology
● Legal, Regulatory and Quality
● Licensing, Credentialing and Privileging
● Reimbursement
● Ethical Considerations

In the coming weeks, ABT will also add a new tele-behavioral certificate and tele-primary certificate to its portfolio of offerings. Course models are available online and may be used for Continuing Medical Education (CME) or Continuing Nursing Education (CNE) credits. To learn more or enroll visit the American Board of Telehealth Education Hub. Visit Telehealth.HHS.gov to learn more about the latest federal efforts to support and promote telehealth services. Health care providers can find everything they need to know about telehealth, including policy and reimbursement updates, “how to” information and implementation resources. Remember, at RBT, we understand the diverse and complicated world of healthcare, and we understand the first step to a brighter financial future is having important conversations about industry-specific topics that matter to you. Feel free to contact our team today, we hope to help your team succeed.

Sources: HHS, HealthIT, HRSA, APA,

Should Schools Make Employee Vaccinations Mandatory?

Educators have navigated uncertainty and unprecedented challenges since March 2020, even as most other sectors of the economy shut down completely. Earlier this month, President Biden directed all states to prioritize teachers, school staff, and childcare workers for COVID-19 vaccination, to vaccinate with their first shots by the end of March, marking this month School and Childcare Staff COVID-19 Vaccination Month. Currently, the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program is prioritizing the vaccination of all teachers, school staff, and childcare workers, and new CDC resources are available to provide vaccination information here. Yet as the COVID-19 vaccine does gradually become more widely available, polling data continues to show that a significant percentage of Americans prefer not to receive a shot, research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 28% of U.S. workers are willing to lose their job rather than get vaccinated. The risk of future in-person learning disruption or shutdowns due to increased COVID-19 infection in classrooms is of great concern moving forward, as various districts staff and students have faced multiple rounds of quarantine because of illness or exposure. However, in-person school attendance “is not a primary driver of community transmission” according to the CDC, which states that, “the science has demonstrated that schools can reopen safely prior to all teachers being vaccinated.” So, how do educators navigate this latest challenge on the road to recovery, while ensuring school staff, students, and families feel safe and secure? Read on for the latest guidance.

Can an employer make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for workers?

ANSWER: In December, the federal agency focused on workplace discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said because the vaccination itself is not a medical examination, employers could make COVID-19 shots mandatory for their workers. Keep in mind that if employees have medical or religious reasons that prevent them from taking a coronavirus vaccine, employers could be legally required to give the workers some reasonable alternative to continue to work. Also, for employers with a unionized workforce, the employer must consider bargaining requirements before implementing a mandatory vaccine policy.

Can an employer ask an employee if he or she has already received the vaccine or require proof of vaccination?

ANSWER: Generally, yes. However, that inquiry can only be made, according to the EEOC, if the question is “job-related and consistent with business necessity” as provided under the ADA. To meet this job-relatedness standard, the employer will need to establish that the worker’s failure to be vaccinated would pose a “direct threat” to the well-being of that employee or others with whom the employee would have contact as part of his or her job duties. No states are publicly reporting the percentage of teachers and school staff that have been vaccinated, according to a Johns Hopkins University analysis.

Can an employer fire an employee who refuses to be vaccinated?

ANSWER: Possibly, in limited circumstances. The EEOC guidance reminds employers that it will need to make reasonable accommodations to employees seeking an exemption due to disability-related reasons or religious objections and will need to follow the established reasonable accommodation process under either the ADA or Title VII before taking any adverse employment actions. The EEOC cautions employers that if it can establish that an employee who is not vaccinated poses a direct threat (that cannot be accommodated without undue hardship), the employer can exclude the employee from the worksite, but the employer cannot terminate the employee without further consideration of the employee’s legal protections or other possible accommodation, including whether the employee can perform his or her job remotely.

It is important to remember that the EEOC guidance is only that—guidance—and not a law. Consequently, some employees may legally challenge mandatory vaccination programs therefore, many employers may opt to strongly encourage vaccination without requiring it. A recent survey found that while most employers have no plan to create a mandatory vaccination process, many do plan to encourage employees to get the vaccine. Nearly 90% said they would provide information to employees (e.g., how to get vaccinated, the benefits of doing so) and nearly 40% said they would offer vaccine administration at their facility to increase convenience – even though this may be easier said than done. A third said they would offer paid time off for employees to receive the vaccine and/or recover from any side effects. According to New York State’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, 17% of the population is currently completely vaccinated.

We hope this summary provides some helpful information for your school to consider as you navigate this complex issue. Pursuing a mandatory vaccination program ultimately requires management, together with its legal and HR teams, to engage in significant planning and develop a program detailing how the process will work from beginning to end. If your team would like to talk to our firm, please contact us today. Additionally, if you have HR questions, please reach out to our wholly-owned subsidiary Visions HR, and connect with Janet Giannetta.

Sources: PBS, AARP, NY.Gov, SHRM, JHU

Critical Home Health Aide Crisis: Recruiting Guide

Critical Home Health Aide Crisis: Recruiting Guide

Hundreds of thousands of older New Yorkers and people living with disabilities rely on home health aides to carry out daily tasks many of us take for granted. From bathing and dressing to meal preparation, routine cleaning, shopping, and even going to school or work – they fill the gap and exponentially improve people’s quality of life. The problem is, the need is growing, and recent revelations in our state’s care and funding threshold make the disparity between qualified aides and demand feel more like an endless void. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for home care even more, while further depressing the labor supply. In a fall 2020 survey, 85 percent of participating New York State home care agencies reported worsening staff shortages.

How do we recruit and retain these essential workers in the middle of a pandemic?

Before we talk about solutions let’s build some more context. While the challenges we are up against may feel overwhelming, we have to understand the problems to fix them. In New York, the number of home health aide and personal care aide jobs is projected to rise to over 700,000 by 2028, driven by employment in home care agencies, private households, and public programs like the Medicaid Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP). High turnover adds to the problem: employers across the state need to recruit an average of 26,510 new aides each year just to keep up with the growing demand for care, as well as an additional 71,680 workers each year to replace the thousands of aides who leave these occupations or exit the labor force entirely.

Below we are breaking down some of the most critical suggestions laid out by patients, families, providers, aides, and advocates. We will also link different support sites we encourage you to visit if you want to learn more or support the growing need to fill the aide gap in New York.

Provide financial care sustainability

  • Organize support for new legislation aimed at raising wages for home care workers, like the newly launched Fair Pay for Home Care
  • Currently, the median hourly wage for home-care workers in New York is $13.80, and the median annual income is $22,000. The bill looks to bump home-care wages to $22 hourly, or $44,000 yearly in New York City; $19.25 or $35,000 on Long Island and in Westchester; and $16.50 hourly or $30,000 in the rest of the state.
  • A new report examining the impact of raising wages for home-care workers concludes that economic benefits, such as income and sales-tax revenue, would far exceed the costs. Experts estimate it would cost $4 billion annually to fund increases, which represents just over 1 percent of total annual spending within New York’s healthcare system.

Address urgent home care and hospice workforce needs

  • Create opportunities across state funding pools and other sources to address core barriers to home care workforce supply (e.g., transportation, childcare, peer collaboration, professional development, and reduction in administrative burden).
  • Support capacity increases through state law and regulatory changes that create new training opportunities, entrants, and case assignment options.

Continue and expand COVID-19 era regulatory relief

  • Establish a process to continue, expand and/or make permanent areas of COVID-19 era flexibilities that are beneficial to worker and patient safety, efficiency, service capacity, access, and quality, including telehealth flexibility.
  • Make the cost of personal protective equipment and related safety protocols ongoing components of the state’s health care reimbursement.

Nearly 1,000,000 positions must be filled to meet the demand for aides over the next decade. A 2018–2019 statewide survey of home care agencies found that, on average, 17 percent of home care positions were left unfilled due to staff shortages. You don’t need to be an accountant to recognize that these realities are not sustainable. Because home care work is physically and emotionally stressful, the path towards viable recruitment and retention is clouded at best. However, we believe by considering the suggestions above, real progress can be made, and this essential industry can attract more compassionate, fulfilled professionals. At RBT, we understand the diverse and complicated world of healthcare. Feel free to contact our dedicated team for more information on our healthcare services.