As vaccine mandate goes into effect, New York area hospitals find little need for Plan B

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order late Monday to expand the healthcare workforce as the clock ticked down on the deadline for the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. After the mandate went into effect at midnight Tuesday, however, most local hospitals began reporting that they’ve been able to weather its impact on staffing.

There was no indication Tuesday that New York facilities in the metropolitan area had to avail themselves of the newly available contingencies, although the city’s public hospital system brought in 500 nurses to fill in for about the same number of unvaccinated nurses put on leave. Kenneth Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said he knew of isolated instances of facilities downsizing services, but he declined to identify them or the affected service lines.

The mandate was issued Aug. 16, giving unvaccinated healthcare workers six weeks to get at least one dose of a vaccine to secure their continued employment. As of Monday evening, 92% of employees at hospitals, 92% of nursing home workers and 89% of adult-care facility staff had received at least one dose, according to preliminary data provided by Hochul’s office.

Hochul’s executive order allows her to use emergency powers to deploy medically trained National Guard members and bring in retired and out-of-state healthcare workers to alleviate any staffing shortages due to the loss of unvaccinated workers.

“I am pleased to see that healthcare workers are getting vaccinated to keep New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said in a statement Tuesday. “I am continuing to monitor developments and ready to take action to alleviate potential staffing-shortage situations in our healthcare systems.”

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Several hospital spokespeople told Crain’s they expect the staff vaccination rates to increase further in the coming days as newly furloughed employees get inoculated so they can return to work. Statewide, about 2% of hospital staff, 1% of nursing home employees and 3.5% of staff at adult-care facilities have not gotten their first dose but said they plan to do so.

St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx achieved a 97% vaccination rate among its 3,000 employees, including several dozen who got a dose of the vaccine the last day before the deadline. The hospital put 65 unvaccinated workers on leave and said it will terminate their employment Monday if they do not get at least one dose by then, a spokesman said. About two dozen workers have exemptions.

Rates were even higher among large health systems such as NYU Langone and New York–Presbyterian, which both reported 99% compliance with the mandate among their tens of thousands of employees.

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Northwell Health said in a statement that its 67,000-person workforce is “already nearly 100% vaccinated.” The system, which operates 23 hospitals, has started the process of terminating unvaccinated employees, including about two dozen clinical and nonclinical leaders who were fired last week. It has 3,000 retirees, volunteers and healthcare students on standby to fill any shortages but has yet to call on any of them, a spokeswoman said.

The state released data Wednesday on the percentage of employees who are fully vaccinated at individual hospitals, although its mandate required only that staff have at least one dose.

Raske said it was clear that making vaccination a condition of continued employment was a major impetus for healthcare workers, as evidenced by a “large turnout of employees that decided in the last 24 hours to get vaccinated.”

“We’re in a position where I think the mandate can be absorbed by the healthcare system,” he said.


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