NEW YORK — Three days after her deadline passed for healthcare workers to get vaccinated, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday New York medical facilities have not reached a crisis point because of unvaccinated workers being dismissed.
The situation may worsen, she said, and the state Department of Health remains ready to assist facilities that need help. But she stood by the midnight Sept. 27 deadline she inherited from her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.
“If you’re waiting, what are you waiting for?” Hochul said rhetorically during a COVID briefing Thursday morning. “Because we’re not changing our position on that.”
Some individual healthcare facilities have reported an uptick in unvaccinated workers getting vaccinated or providing proof of vaccination in the last days and hours before the deadline, or upon their suspension after the deadline.
But more than 30,000 hospital and nursing home workers statewide refuse to be vaccinated and more than 10,000 others have said they will take the shot but still have not.
An unknown additional number have been granted exemptions on religious grounds by their employers, but the Hochul administration is pursuing a court effort to eliminate that option.
The Capital Region’s largest hospital, Albany Medical Center, has labeled it a crisis years in the making. Like many other hospitals, it is weighing reductions in services as a response if it runs too short on personnel.
Hochul’s message was at once victorious and cautionary — no crisis yet, but a DOH operations center remains in place if a crisis arises. “We got through a difficult week,” she said Thursday morning, a day and a half before the weekend. “It’s hard to force people to do something you wish they’d do voluntarily.”
A reporter asked Hochul about the practical impact of the vaccine ultimatum for healthcare workers.
She couldn’t quantify the number of private-sector workers who’ve been suspended but said several hundred are gone from state-run facilities. One of those, Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, halted elective surgeries late last week as the deadline neared.
Each hospital has its own protocol for staffing shortages, Hochul said, and some of those plans will include a halt to non-urgent procedures.
Another reporter asked why the vaccine mandate was imposed on hospitals and nursing homes but not other facilities, such as those operated by the Office of Mental Health, or prisons.
Hochul said she had the legal ability to impose the rule on facilities regulated by the DOH but not on facilities regulated by other agencies.
“I didn’t have the authority … otherwise I assure you I would have,” she said.
But her administration is working to close that gap.
“That is going to happen,” she said. “I agree — there’s no reason to have an exception. People need to be vaccinated. We’ll have the legal authority to announce that very shortly. I just have to get the regulations to ensure that when we get the inevitable lawsuit that … we can establish that we did this properly with the right authority.”
For most Capital Region healthcare facilities, the number of employees facing suspension and then termination is only a few percentage points of the total workforce.
But the total workforce is diminished after years of attrition and because of employee burnout from 19 months of battling COVID. So each new departure of an unvaccinated employee pushes a facility closer to crisis.
The actual number of employees who’ll lose their jobs is unknown, as most facilities are offering a grace period of unpaid suspension to allow the unvaccinated a chance to change their mind.
It’s a fluid situation, but a few impacts have already been felt this week:
- Capital Region Women’s Care on Tuesday said only its main location in North Greenbush would see patients starting Wednesday; its Clifton Park, Delmar and Saratoga satellite offices would be temporarily unavailable.
- Albany Medical Center’s EmUrgentCare clinics in Guilderland and Mechanicville are temporarily closed to free up staff to relieve pressure at the main hospital emergency department.
- Priority 1 Urgent Care in Guilderland has limited urgent care services due to staffing shortages.
- Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville has temporarily closed its Broadalbin and town of Johnstown primary care centers due to staffing shortages.
A statistical snapshot reported Thursday by the New York state Department of Health and federal Centers for Disease Control:
Percentage of population fully or partly vaccinated:
NY STATE: 71.2%
Average positive test rate, last seven days:
NY STATE: 2.6%
Number and percentage of residents testing positive for COVID, cumulative:
ALBANY: 29,092 9.2%
FULTON: 5,619 10.5%
MONTGOMERY: 5,313 10.7%
SARATOGA: 18,930 8.0%
SCHENECTADY: 15,656 9.9%
SCHOHARIE: 2,145 7.2%
NY STATE: 2.4 million 11.8%
USA: 44.7 million 13.4%
Number of residents reported to have died of COVID and ratio to population, cumulative:
ALBANY: 372, 1-in-846
FULTON: 98, 1-in-544
MONTGOMERY: 135, 1-in-367
SARATOGA: 191, 1-in-1,233
SCHENECTADY: 218, 1-in-725
SCHOHARIE: 20, 1-in-1,486
NY STATE: 56,752, 1-in-355
USA: 694,701, 1-in-477
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