New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday she’s ready to declare a state of emergency – if needed – to prevent staff shortages that may be triggered by health care workers who don’t adhere to the state’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate, which goes into effect Monday.
The state of emergency would ramp up workforce supply and allow health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, and retired professionals to practice in the state, according to a statement from Hochul’s office.
Other options include deploying medically trained National Guard members and tapping federal disaster medical assistance teams.
“We are still in a battle against COVID … and we need to fight with every tool at our disposal,” Hochul said in the statement, urging unvaccinated staff to comply.
New York’s health department issued an order last month requiring all health care workers be vaccinated against Covid-19 by September 27. It broadened the scope of an earlier mandate that only applied to state health care workers.
As that deadline looms, some health care workers have yet to be inoculated against Covid-19. As of Wednesday, 84% of all hospital employees in the state are fully vaccinated, and 81% of staff at all adult care facilities and 77% of all staff at nursing home facilities in the state were fully vaccinated, according to the governor’s office.
Workers who are terminated because they refuse to receive a vaccine are not eligible for unemployment insurance, the state’s labor department said, absent a valid request for medical accommodation.
Covid-19 vaccine mandates have become a polarizing issue in recent months. Health experts and many officials have called vaccine mandates a necessary step to protect the population and slow the spread of the coronavirus, but other officials and politicians say they’re opposed to such mandates.
The Biden administration announced earlier this month that it would require all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week, but it was met with swift criticism from several Republican governors.
Earlier this month in New York, a federal judge temporarily suspended state health officials from enforcing the state’s vaccine mandate if health care workers claim a religious exemption.
The judge’s ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by seventeen Catholic and Baptist medical professionals who argued they oppose getting the vaccine for religious reasons and sought to prevent the state from enforcing the mandate, according to the lawsuit. The legal proceedings in the case are ongoing, and a final decision has not been reached.
New York hospitals preparing for vaccine mandate deadline
The majority of employees at Mount Sinai and NewYork-Presbyterian hospitals in New York City have complied with the state’s vaccine mandate, according to spokespeople from both health institutions.
Mount Sinai expects less than 1% of its staff to be cut due to failure to fulfill the vaccine mandate, a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, NewYork-Presbyterian set its own vaccination deadline last week, the hospital said in a statement. More than 99% of the hospital’s 48,000 staff members are fully vaccinated, said spokesperson Suzanne Halpin, adding fewer than 250 employees chose not to comply with the mandate.
“We will continue to provide exceptional care at all of our hospitals, without interruption,” she said.
But that’s not the case at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) in Buffalo, New York, which expects 10% of its staff – about 400 workers – not to be vaccinated by Monday, spokesperson Peter Cutler said in a statement. About 85% of all staff are already vaccinated, he said.
ECMC suspended elective inpatient surgeries and will temporarily stop accepting ICU transfers from other health care facilities ahead of Monday’s vaccine mandate deadline, the medical center said in a statement. ECMC has also curtailed hours at outpatient clinics as well as reduced units at one of its long-term care facilities.
Those working in New York City’s 11 public hospitals who don’t meet Monday’s vaccine deadline will be put on unpaid leave, but could return if they get their vaccine soon, NYC Health + Hospitals spokesperson Stephanie M. Guzmán said. At least 88% of its workforce is in compliance.
Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville, about 60 miles northeast of Syracuse, said earlier this month it would stop delivering babies after September 24 because of the number of maternity unit employee resignations it had over the state’s Covid-19 vaccination requirements, said Gerald Cayer, chief executive of the Lewis County Health System.
CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.