NY preps for staff shortage with health care vaccine mandate – syracuse.com

Kathy Hochul

FILE – In this Thursday Aug. 26, 2021, file photo, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at an event in the Harlem section of New York. Gov. Hochul vowed to fight a lawsuit launched by a group of Christian health care practitioners who argue that New York’s vaccine mandate is unconstitutional because it lacks a religious exemption. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)AP

By MICHAEL HILL Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday she is prepared to call in medically trained National Guard members, retirees and workers outside New York to address potential staffing shortages caused by an approaching vaccine mandate for health care workers.

If necessary, Hochul said, she will declare a state of emergency through an executive order designed to address staffing shortages in hospitals and nursing homes once the mandate takes effect Monday.

Many health care workers have still not yet received a required first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine days before the deadline, leaving the prospect of potentially thousands of health care workers being forced off the job next week.

The order would allow health care professionals who are licensed in other states or countries, are recent graduates, or are formerly practicing health care professionals to practice in New York, Hochul said, noting she is exploring ways to expedite visa requests for medical professionals.

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The governor said she also has the option of deploying National Guard members and partnering with the federal government to deploy Disaster Medical Assistance Teams.

“I am monitoring the staffing situation closely, and 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 in a prepared release.

Hospitals around the state have been preparing contingency plans that included cutting back on elective surgeries. Many nursing homes were limiting admissions.

“We’re roughly about 84% statewide vaccinated right now, so any initiatives that the governor could advance to increase the workforce is welcome and needed,” said Stephen Hanse, who represents nursing homes statewide as president of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living.

Hochul, a Democrat, has resisted calls to delay the mandate, and her 11th-hour announcement could ratchet up pressure on vaccine holdouts. She said workers terminated because of refusal to be vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment insurance without a doctor-approved request for medical accommodation.

In Central New York, nursing homes and hospitals were offering last-minute vaccine shots to workers while at the same time issuing warning about the last shifts for unvaccinated staff early this week.

At the same time, Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse plans to temporarily close 22 of its 35 operating rooms starting Monday in anticipation of a growing staff shortage. Van Duyn, the county’s second-largest nursing home, has stopped taking new residents.

On Friday, one of the unions representing some Upstate workers clarified its unvaccinated staffers won’t immediately lose their jobs.

Instead, these members of United University Professions will be placed on unpaid leave when the vaccine mandate goes into effect on Monday, UUP President Fred Kowal said in a statement. UUP represents nurse supervisors, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, surgeons and resident doctors at Upstate.

Unvaccinated UUP members will be allowed to fight for their jobs through the union’s normal grievance process, Kowal wrote.

While the leave is unpaid, members will be able to use any vacation time they are owed to continue to get paid while they await the outcome of their hearing process. All UUP members will also continue to receive health insurance during their grievance process.

Syracuse.com | The Post-Standard staff writer Anne Hayes contributed to this report.

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