New York sets staff shortage plan amid COVID-19 vaccine mandate

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has unveiled a plan to address staffing shortages if large numbers of healthcare workers leave hospitals and other facilities because of the state's COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

In a statement released Sept. 25, the governor's office said Ms. Hochul's plan includes the preparation of a state of emergency declaration to boost workforce supply and allow qualified healthcare professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, retired and formerly practicing healthcare professionals to practice at New York facilities.  

The state is also considering deploying National Guard members, as well as partnering with the federal government to deploy disaster medical assistance teams to help local healthcare systems, the governor's office said. Additionally, the governor plans to work with federal officials and other state leaders to fast track visa requests for medical professionals.

"We are still in a battle against COVID to protect our loved ones, and we need to fight with every tool at our disposal," Ms. Hochul said in a news release. "I am monitoring the staffing situation closely, and we have a plan to increase our healthcare workforce and help alleviate the burdens on our hospitals and other health care facilities. I commend all of the healthcare workers who have stepped up to get themselves vaccinated, and I urge all remaining healthcare workers who are unvaccinated to do so now so they can continue providing care."

New York's mandate requires healthcare workers at hospitals and nursing homes to receive their first vaccine dose by Sept. 27. Workers at additional entities covered by the mandate, including diagnostic and treatment centers, home health agencies, long-term home healthcare programs, school-based clinics and hospice care programs, must have at least one dose by Oct. 7.

But Ms. Hochul's office reported that 84 percent of all hospital employees in the state were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 22. As of Sept. 23, 81 percent of staff at adult care facilities and 77 percent of nursing home staff in the state were fully vaccinated. 

Some hospitals have already lost workers because of the state's mandate, and facilities are bracing for effects of the state's mandate.

In a Sept. 21 statement shared with Becker's, Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, N.Y., said it anticipates that approximately 10 percent of its workforce (about 400 staff) will not be vaccinated by Sept. 27.

The organization said its contingency planning for the anticipated vaccine mandate deadline includes opening its incident command center to monitor closely all hospital operations, suspend elective inpatient surgeries, temporarily declining intensive care unit transfers from other area institutions, and reducing hours at the medical center's outpatient clinics, so workers can support inpatient care at the main hospital.

New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, which has about 76,000 employees, said in a statement obtained by The New York Times that it "wants to reassure the public that patient care will not be affected" by the mandate and that it was working on contingency plans to address staffing.

The New York mandate is slated to take effect days after Judge David Hurd, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, extended a temporary restraining order on the state mandate for healthcare workers claiming religious exemption.

The order, which was granted Sept. 14 and extended to Oct. 12, freezes enforcement of the state mandate's prohibition of religious exemptions as part of a case brought by 17 medical workers against the state. It only applies to healthcare workers claiming religious exemptions.

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