NY braces for staff shortage with health care vaccination mandate

By MICHAEL HILL Associated Press

ALBANY, NY (AP) – Governor Kathy Hochul said on Saturday she was ready to call on medically trained National Guard members, retirees and workers outside of New York to deal with shortages of potential staff caused by an impending vaccine tenure for healthcare workers.

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

Many healthcare workers still haven’t received the required first injection of the COVID-19 vaccine days before the deadline, leaving the possibility that thousands of healthcare workers will be forced out of work next week.

The order would allow medical professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates or former medical professionals to practice in New York City, Hochul said, noting that she was exploring ways to speed up visa applications for health professionals.

The governor said she also has the option of deploying members of the National Guard and partnering with the federal government to deploy disaster medical assistance teams.

“I am closely monitoring the staff situation and we have a plan to increase our health care workforce and help ease the burden on our hospitals and other health facilities,” she said in a prepared statement.

State hospitals prepared contingency plans that included reducing elective surgeries. Many retirement homes restricted admissions.

“We are currently about 84% vaccinated statewide, so any initiatives the governor might bring forward to increase staffing are welcome and necessary,” said Stephen Hanse, who represents nursing homes across the country. State as president of the New York State Association of Healthcare Facilities. and the New York State Center for Assisted Living.

Hochul, a Democrat, has resisted calls to delay the mandate, and her 11-hour announcement could increase pressure on vaccine laggers. She said workers fired for refusing to be vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment insurance without a medical accommodation application approved by a doctor.

In central New York City, nursing homes and hospitals were offering last-minute vaccines to workers while warning of the last shifts of unvaccinated staff earlier this week.

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

On Friday, one of the unions representing some workers in the upstate said its unvaccinated workers would not immediately lose their jobs.

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

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

While leave is unpaid, members will be able to use the vacation owed to them to continue to be paid pending the outcome of their hearing process. All UUP members will also continue to have health insurance during their grievance process.

Syracuse.com | Post-Standard editor Anne Hayes contributed to this report.

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