ALBANY — Bringing in the National Guard, hiring workers from others states and countries and declaring a state of emergency are some of New York’s options if health-care workers quit instead of getting a COVID-19 vaccine ahead of Monday’s deadline.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced contingency plans Saturday as the Monday deadline looms for all of New York’s health-care workforce to get the first shot of the COVID vaccine.
The state installed the mandate last month, and despite lawsuits and threats that hundreds of workers may walk off the job, Hochul has held firm on the deadline.
“We are still in a battle against COVID to protect our loved ones, and we need to fight with every tool at our disposal,” Hochul said in a statement.
“I am monitoring the staffing situation closely, and we have a plan to increase our health care workforce and help alleviate the burdens on our hospitals and other health care facilities.”
The plan includes potentially declaring a state of emergency that would aim to increase the workforce at hospitals and nursing homes if employees follow through on their threat to quit or get fired instead of getting the vaccine.
Other options include deploying vaccinated workers from other states or tapping recent graduates or retirees — similar to steps New York took at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 when hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID cases.
Another way Hochul is trying to drive up the vaccination rates among health workers: The Department of Labor is making it clear that workers who are terminated because of a refusal to be vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment benefits — unless they have a doctor-approved request for a medical exemption.
Other options would be to deploy medically trained National Guard members to understaffed facilities or bringing in Disaster Medical Assistance Teams through the federal government.
The announcement comes as Hochul is trying to negotiate agreements with public-workers unions over the vaccine mandate and as lawsuits work their way through the courts.
On Friday, a temporary restraining order blocked the vaccinate mandate for workers in the state court system, and a judge earlier this month temporarily stopped New York from disallowing a religious exemption for the vaccine.
Hochul noted that 84% of all hospital employees in New York were fully vaccinated, while 81% were at adult care facilities and 77% at nursing home facilities.
The state regulation requires all health care workers in New York at hospitals and nursing homes to be vaccinated against COVID with the first dose received by Monday.
Staff at other covered entities — including home care, hospice and adult care facilities — must do so by Oct. 7.
“As nurses, we are committed to providing the best care for our patients and working with the governor on these efforts,” Pat Kane, executive director of New York State Nurses Association, said in a statement from the governor’s office.
“We need adequate staffing to protect our patients and our colleagues, and we want to do everything we can to avoid returning to crisis levels during the pandemic.”
More:These NY public workers just won a court order to block looming vaccine mandate
More:NY’s medical worker COVID vaccine mandate entangled in lawsuits, protests. What’s next
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
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