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'I’m sending out that alarm': Hochul warns of health care staffing shortage, hospital bed capacity

Gov. Kathy Hochul in front of a NEW YORK FORWARD image
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul (r) warned Wednesday that a staffing crisis in the health care sector looms if more workers don’t get vaccinated.

New York could be headed toward a staffing crisis in the health care sector if more workers don’t get vaccinated, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday, as the state’s COVID-19 numbers continue to rise amid the Delta variant.

That’s because the state’s requirement for health care workers to get vaccinated — or lose their jobs — could take a significant chunk out of that industry’s workforce.

“The biggest challenge for our hospitals is not the [personal protective equipment.] It’s not the beds,” Hochul said. “Just like last year, it’s staffing. Staffing is now what we need.”

Health care workers at hospitals and nursing homes in New York have until Sept. 27 to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while home care workers and those working in other adult care facilities will have until Oct. 7.

As of Wednesday, 80% of the state’s hospital workers had been vaccinated, according to state data. For skilled nursing facilities and adult care facilities, the statewide vaccination rates were 76% and 80% respectively.

That means that, unless the remaining workers receive their first dose of the vaccine by their respective deadlines, they won’t be able to keep their current positions.

Last week, a state health panel that can set emergency regulations approved a requirement that all health care workers in New York — including those in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities — receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

There is no testing alternative for those workers, which means they’ll either have to get vaccinated or be out of a job. That could lead to a significant gap in the state’s health care workforce.

Hochul appeared to say Wednesday that there may be an avenue for those workers to stay on board, but that she expected other health care professionals to step up if the staffing shortage becomes an issue.

“We're going to hit a crisis level with respect to staffing in healthcare facilities, hospitals, nursing homes,” Hochul said. “I'm trying to do what I can to work with the unions that represent the current employees, how we can find more people, how we can accommodate their concerns and their needs. I’m sending out that alarm as we speak. I need more people to become health care workers.”

At the same time, Hochul said the state is monitoring hospital bed capacity while New York’s COVID-19 numbers inch up to see if those facilities need to make more space available.

As of Wednesday, about a third of the state’s hospital beds were free, while about a quarter of intensive care unit spaces remained open.

“Talk to the leaders of the hospitals, they can handle that today,” Hochul said. “But we do have to make sure it doesn't creep much beyond that or else we’ll have to take more dramatic action to increase bed capacity.”

As of Wednesday, the seven-day COVID-19 average positivity rate in New York was 3.3%, the same level seen in April.