Vaccination deadline arrives for NY healthcare workers
As the deadline closed in for hospital and nursing home workers in New York state to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Kathy Hochul made an 11th-hour plea to holdout health care workers to get inoculated.
“To those who have not yet made that decision, please do the right thing,” Hochul said at a press briefing. “A lot of your employers are anxious to just give you the jab in the arm and say you’re part of the family, we need your help to continue on.”
Hospitals and nursing homes braced for the prospect of severe staff shortages fueled by workers getting suspended or fired for refusing to be inoculated. Some hospitals began taking actions against holdout workers by Monday. And with thousands of workers still thought to be holding out, administrators around the state prepared contingency plans that included cutting back on noncritical services and limiting admissions at nursing homes.
Hochul said she will sign an executive order that will allow her to call in medically trained National Guard members and retirees, or vaccinated workers from outside the state, to fill any gaps. The governor has held firm on the mandate in the face of pleas to delay it and multiple lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.
Hochul said health care workers in New York state at hospitals and nursing homes are required to be vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of Monday. Employees who refuse the shots face suspensions and termination.
The rules apply not just to people like doctors and nurses, but also to others who work in health care institutions, like food service workers, administrators and cleaners.
The Erie County Medical Center Corporation in Buffalo said about 5% of its hospital workforce has been put on unpaid leave due the mandate, along with 20% of staff at its nursing home.
The state’s largest health care provider, Northwell Health, said it has begun removing unvaccinated workers from their system. The company released a statement saying that "A few hundred unvaccinated leaders were contacted last week to take urgent action in regards to getting the shot. About two dozen of them who were still not vaccinated were exited from the system." They say they are in the process terminating the rest of their unvaccinated staff.
SUNY hospitals and nursing homes also released a statement today saying employees who not received a vaccine by the end of the day, or been given an exemption, will get an “immediate suspension and pending termination on Tuesday, Sept 28.”
About 84% of over 450,000 hospital workers in New York were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to state data. Nursing home data, which was through Sunday, showed about 89% of nursing home workers fully vaccinated.
Some individual hospital systems reported higher rates.
Northwell Health said nearly 100% of its workforce was vaccinated. The New York City's hospital system reported a 95% rate for nurses and a higher rate for doctors.
“I feel good, very good about our ability to have the staffing we need in the public hospitals,” said Mitchell Katz, head of the city’s public hospital system.
The mandate comes as hospitals are already reeling from staff shortages fueled in part by workers retiring and employees seeking other jobs after 18 months of the pandemic.
Health care workers can apply for a religious exemption, at least for now. A federal judge on Oct. 12 will consider a legal challenge arguing that such exemptions are constitutionally required.