New York prepares to deploy National Guard to plug health care worker shortages as vaccine mandate begins


“Today is a significant deadline. It reflects my priority to stop this virus dead in its tracks,” Hochul said Monday. It is a “basic right” for people to know they will be safe when entering a health care facility, the governor added.

Last month, the New York State Department of Health issued an order that all health care workers in the state would be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by September 27. States have long required hospital employees to be vaccinated against other diseases to better protect staff and patients from outbreaks.
The vast majority of health care workers have been vaccinated against Covid-19, but the requirement could still lead to a significant number of workers unable to work — shortages that could, ironically, lead to worse medical care for patients with the illness. New York is facing similar potential worker shortages because of its vaccine mandates in schools and courts.

Hochul said that while she would prefer all of the state’s health care workers be vaccinated by the end of the day, she is prepared to use emergency powers to deploy medically trained National Guard officers and bring qualified, retired health care workers back into service, even if their medical licenses have lapsed.

New York faces a showdown this week over vaccine mandates in schools, courts and health care

The governor also said her office will establish an operations center that will be in touch with health care facilities across the state Monday night and Tuesday to determine where the state’s resources are, as well as where employee shortages are occurring and how to properly staff them.

It’s possible that some health care workers may be asked to serve in different parts of the state where the vaccination rate is lower, Hochul said.

“It’s not going to be a perfect situation, but again, it’s preventable,” Hochul said.

Hochul asked remaining unvaccinated health care workers to “please do the right thing,” calling getting vaccinated “simple common sense.”

“I’m sick and tired of talking about Covid. I want to talk about the rebirth of communities,” Hochul said. “We’ve been fighting this long and hard. … There is an end in sight.”

Where New York’s hospitals stand

At New York City’s 11 public hospitals, about 5,000 of the 43,000 employees, or about 12%, were not vaccinated as of Monday morning, Health + Hospitals CEO Dr. Mitch Katz said Monday.

“Over 95% of my nurses are vaccinated today … close to 98-99% of my doctors have agreed (and been vaccinated) and all our facilities are open and fully functional,” Katz said when asked whether he was aware of any staffing shortages. “I have not heard of any negative reports from the private hospital system.”

Unvaccinated employees at the 11 public hospitals will be put on unpaid leave but may return if they get vaccinated, according to NYC Health + Hospitals spokesperson Stephanie M. Guzmán.

Any employee of a state-run health care facility who does not receive at least one vaccination dose by the end of the day Monday, barring approved exemptions, “will be immediately suspended,” according to the New York State Department of Health.

The vaccination rate among health care workers varies by region and type of health care center. As of last Wednesday, 84% of hospital workers, 81% of staff at all adult care facilities and 77% of all staff at nursing home facilities were fully vaccinated in the state, according to the governor’s office.

New York governor anticipates possible health care staff shortages due to vaccine mandate non-compliance

“I do expect that some places where more health care workers remain to be vaccinated may have to make some operational adjustments particularly to ensure that staffing is most important, that ICU or operating rooms are adequately staffed,” New York City Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said. “But I do believe that hospitals will be prepared to get through this without major impact to patient care.”

The vast 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 that 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.

However, that’s not the case at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) in Buffalo, 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.

CNN’s Aya Elamroussi contributed to this report.

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