NYS preps for health care staff shortage as COVID vaccine mandate looms

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FILE – In this Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 file photo, a nurse loads a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Jackson, Miss. Millions of Americans are now eligible to receive a Pfizer booster shot to help increase their protection against the worst effects of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York officials are prepared to call in medically trained National Guard members and retirees to address potential staffing shortages caused by an approaching COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday.

Hochul released a plan to address what she called preventable staffing shortages in hospitals and other health care facilities once the mandate takes effect Monday.

Many health care workers have still not yet received a required first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine days before the deadline.

As of Wednesday, 84% of hospital employees in New York were fully vaccinated, according to the governor’s office. Additionally, 81% of staff at adult-care facilities and 77% of nursing home workers in New York were fully vaccinated as of Thursday.

That leaves the prospect of potentially thousands of health care workers being forced off the job next week.

“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. I commend all of the health care workers who have stepped up to get themselves vaccinated, and I urge all remaining health care workers who are unvaccinated to do so now so they can continue providing care.”

If necessary, Hochul said she is prepared to sign an executive order declaring a state of emergency that would allow New York to increase its workforce supply and allow qualified health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, retired and formerly practicing health care professionals to practice in the state.

The Department of Labor also issued guidance to clarify that health care workers who are terminated because of their refusal to be vaccinated against COVID are not eligible for unemployment insurance. The exception being for workers who can provide a doctor-approved request for medical accommodation.

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