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Hochul signs emergency order to ease hospital staffing shortages due to vaccine mandate

Gov. Kathy Hochul
Mike Groll
Office of the Governor

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has signed an emergency order to call in the National Guard and import healthcare workers from other states and countries to ease anticipated staffing shortages at hospitals and nursing homes due to a midnight COVID-19 vaccination deadline. Hochul said "the only way we can move past this pandemic is to ensure that everyone eligible is vaccinated."

In New York, 84% of healthcare workers are vaccinated for COVID-19. If the remaining 16% don’t comply with the mandate by midnight, existing staffing shortages are expected to get worse.

Some hospitals and nursing homes began removing workers Monday for failing to meet the state-mandated deadline. Some hospitals are already postponing elective surgeries.

Hochul said she’s taking immediate action to respond.

“I will be signing an executive order to give me the emergency powers necessary to address these shortages where they occur,” Hochul said during an appearance in the Bronx.

The order will waive some existing regulations and allow licensed healthcare professionals in other states and countries, as well as retired workers and recent graduates, to practice in New York. Visa requests will be expedited to help foreign workers arrive in New York more quickly.

The governor said she will also deploy medical professionals in the National Guard to help, and her staff will be working with health care facilities across the state to determine where the greatest shortages are anticipated.

Hochul issued a last-minute plea to unvaccinated workers, saying the crisis is completely avoidable. She said those who are refusing to be immunized are putting additional burdens on their vaccinated colleagues.

“Please do the right thing,” Hochul said. “Your employers are anxious to just give you the jab in the arm, and say, ‘You’re part of the family, we need your help, continue on.’”

Under the governor’s plan, unvaccinated workers who are terminated from their jobs will not be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

The mandate faces legal challenges. A provision that would not allow unvaccinated workers to claim a religious exemption is on hold pending a court hearing. That means workers who can document that their religion prevents them from getting a vaccine will be allowed to do so for the time being.

Also, the vaccine mandate for 5,600 employees of the state’s court system is on hold because their union, the Civil Service Employees Association, said the requirement should be subject to collective bargaining. A hearing will be held Oct. 1.

Several security guards at state-run hospitals are claiming in court that the mandate violates their constitutional rights. Former State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, who is now in private practice, said his clients want the option of regular testing instead. He said that alternative is available to the state’s teachers if they don’t want to get vaccinated.

“In this instance, the healthcare workers are being treated in a disparate fashion,” Vacco said. “Because their choice is vaccination or termination.”

The vaccine requirement for healthcare workers is not the only state-issued mandate enacted by Hochul. Home healthcare workers, employees of hospices and everyone who works at an adult care facility must be vaccinated by Oct. 7 or they, too, will lose their jobs.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.