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NY prepared for tens of thousands of unvaccinated health workers to lose jobs

A sign parodies the
Enlarge / Demonstrators hold signs during a protest against COVID-19 mandates in New York on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

New York state has braced itself for the possibility of losing tens of thousands of unvaccinated health workers who fail to meet the state’s Monday deadline for COVID-19 vaccination.

Last month, New York’s health department announced that all health care workers in the Empire State would be required to receive at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by September 27.

As of last week, 84 percent of New York’s roughly 450,000 hospital workers were fully vaccinated, according to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office. That leaves the fate of about 72,000 workers in question as the deadline passes. In addition, only 81 percent of staff in the state’s adult care facilities and 77 percent of all staff at nursing home facilities were fully vaccinated as of last week.

In a statement released over the weekend, Hochul said she is “monitoring the staffing situation closely.”

“We have a plan to increase our health care workforce and help alleviate the burdens on our hospitals and other health care facilities,” she said. “I commend all of the health care workers who have stepped up to get themselves vaccinated, and I urge all remaining health care workers who are unvaccinated to do so now so they can continue providing care.”

If necessary, Hochul’s plan includes declaring a state of emergency to offer surge staffing in state health facilities. That could involve calling up health care workers who are licensed in other states, those who are retired, or people who have recently graduated medical school. Hochul also left open the possibility of deploying medically trained members of the National Guard.

Consequences

Hochul also noted that, according to guidance from the Department of Labor, anyone in the state terminated for failing to get vaccinated will not be eligible for unemployment insurance, unless they provide a doctor-approved medical accommodation.

There are pending legal cases related to the fact that the state’s mandate does not allow for religious exemptions, but it’s unclear how many health care workers this will impact.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said it expected the city to weather the loss of holdouts well. About 5,000 employees of the city’s hospitals—about 10 percent of the workforce—were unvaccinated, officials said. On Monday, city health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said that there may be some “operational adjustments” needed to account for lost staff in intensive care units or operating rooms. But, he added, “hospitals will be prepared to get through this without a major impact to patient care.”

Doctors and nurses in the city who spoke with The New York Times suggested that the vaccine deadline was working for some holdouts. Eric Appelbaum, the chief medical officer of St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, told the paper Monday that the percentage of hospital workers with at least one dose increased from 88 percent Friday to 94 percent today. “I did not think it would be this good,” Appelbaum said, noting that he feared vaccinations would stall below 90 percent.

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