On Sept. 27, New York State’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers came into effect. The mandate requires employees working in the state’s public and private hospitals as well as nursing homes to have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by midnight on Monday if they want to remain employed.
According to state data, around 83 percent of New York’s 145,000 nursing home employees and 84 percent of its 450,000 hospital workers are fully vaccinated. However, tens of thousands of healthcare workers remained unvaccinated as of Sept. 22. Many of them have refused vaccines due to worries about potential side effects, concerns that the mandate violates their personal freedoms, or simply because they already have developed natural immunity.
Northwell Health, New York’s largest provider of healthcare, calculated that it might have to terminate thousands of people due to the vaccine mandate. At NewYork-Presbyterian — NYC’s biggest private hospital network — over 200 employees have been fired.
Erie County Medical Center Corporation estimates that it might have to fire 400 employees which could force the hospital to limit the number of intensive-care patients they receive and to force them to suspend elective in-patient surgeries.
“This is creating an unprecedented crisis for us… I think we need more time to comply, and I’ve asked for that. For all the right reasons, the vaccine mandate was put in place. But the reality is it is creating a public health crisis in hospitals, with nobody to care for patients,” Tom Quatroche, the Erie County Medical Center Corporation’s president, told The New York Times.
One hospital in Rochester has postponed elective surgeries. Some nursing homes have halted new admissions. According to Michael Balboni, executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association which represents nursing homes in and around New York City, they are “anticipating a problem” with regard to staffing.
“There are already many nursing homes that have not been taking new admissions over the last weeks, and looking at their staffing routines so they basically stretch,” Balboni told the Wall Street Journal.
Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, also admits that mandating vaccines to healthcare workers could create problems for New York when it comes to finding employees.
Several lawsuits have been filed against the vaccine mandate. Gregory Serafin, registered nurse at the Erie County Medical Center and lead plaintiff of one such lawsuit, points out that a patient is given a Bill of Rights that allows them to choose what tests, procedures, or medications they can be subjected to. In the same way, healthcare workers also “deserve the same medical autonomy” when making such decisions, she insists.
Meanwhile, New York Governor Democrat, Kathy Hochul, has remained firm on her decision to mandate the vaccines. During a visit to Rochester last week, she called unvaccinated healthcare workers as being replaceable. “To all the healthcare providers, doctors, and nurses in particular who are vaccinated, I say thank you. Because you are keeping true to your oath… To those who won’t, we will be replacing people,” Hochul said.
On Sept. 25, the governor’s office issued a press release addressing the potential issue of staffing shortages in healthcare facilities due to the mandate. Hochul had earlier talked about recruiting “temporary workers” from Ireland or the Philippines.
“The plan includes preparing to sign an executive order if necessary to declare a state of emergency that seeks to increase workforce supply and allow qualified health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, retired and formerly practicing health care professionals to practice in New York State,” the press release said.
It warned that employees who are terminated for refusing vaccination will be deemed ineligible for unemployment insurance according to guidance issued by the Department of Labor. Only those who submit a doctor-approved request for medical accommodation will be exempt from this rule.
The issue of religious exemption for COVID-19 vaccines remains uncertain. A federal judge from Utica had issued a temporary restraining order that prevented New York State from implementing the mandate on people who sought such exemptions. The order is valid until Oct. 12 when the judge will decide how to move ahead on the issue.