AMSTERDAM — GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino’s campaign took him to St. Mary’s Healthcare on Thursday where he called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to reinstate 34,000 healthcare workers who defied COVID-19 vaccine mandates. St. Mary’s officials, however, said afterwards that they were not notified of the planned visit and that the hospital supports vaccine mandates.
From the sidewalk in front of St. Mary’s on Guy Park Avenue, Astorino argued that the vaccine mandate imposed by Hochul has contributed to staffing shortages at hospitals across the state after roughly 34,000 healthcare workers declined to become vaccinated as required to remain in their positions.
“Yesterday’s frontline heroes — our nurses, doctors, technicians, therapists — all fought to protect us during the height of this pandemic when little was known and when they often had inadequate PPE. To fire them over a personal medical decision, especially when many have natural immunity, was never right, but it makes even less sense now with what we know,” Astorino stated.
The candidate further argued that the vaccine mandate has contributed to the suspension of elective surgeries at 40 hospitals across the state facing capacity issues, including St. Mary’s.
The executive order signed by Hochul in November to combat the anticipated winter surge in COVID-19 cases — now unfolding across the nation — requires hospitals to suspend non-essential, non-urgent elective surgeries if their occupancy is above 95% based on weekly assessments performed by the state.
Astorino also raised objections to new policies allowing healthcare workers who test positive for the coronavirus to return to work after five days of isolation, shortened from 10.
“This makes absolutely no sense that an infected nurse can work in the hospital as long as they are vaccinated but a healthy, unvaccinated nurse who tests negative can’t work,” said Astorino. “Kathy Hochul cares more about the political science than actual science and data and she’s causing a lot of harm.”
The change follows updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortening the isolation period with additional precautions upon resuming normal activities for all individuals, except those who experience severe illness. Anyone who becomes severely ill should isolate for at least 10 days and should consult their doctor before ending isolation.
Astorino argued that vaccine mandates should be lifted since they do not fully prevent transmission.
“The entire justification for the mandate was to stop the spread. That obviously hasn’t happened and the CDC now admits that. The vaccines help the individual in reducing severity of illness. This isn’t an argument against the vaccines, it’s an argument against destroying a person’s livelihood and causing a capacity crisis in our hospitals over a subjective and unscientific mandate,” Astorino stated.
The CDC has stated that vaccines lower the risk of becoming infected and transmitting the coronavirus, in addition to reducing the risk of severe illness and death.
Phil Oliva, a campaign spokesman, said Astorino decided to deliver his remarks from St. Mary’s as the hospital and its workforce have been impacted by the mandates the candidate is fighting.
“We’re concerned about St. Mary’s and all hospitals and healthcare facilities that are facing a staffing shortage,” Oliva said. “We’ve spoken to some healthcare workers who have been forced out.”
However, Oliva confirmed the campaign never notified officials of plans to stump outside of the hospital before setting up a lectern on the public sidewalk.
“We didn’t enter the facility, we did it outside,” Oliva said.
St. Mary’s issued a statement after the hospital was used as a “background” for Astorino’s political speech without the healthcare organization’s prior awareness or permission. The release made clear the politician’s message runs contrary to core beliefs at St. Mary’s.
“St. Mary’s Healthcare supports the vaccine mandate which upholds the responsibility we have to protect the health of our patients, residents, fellow employees and our community. The COVID-19 vaccine is the best tool we have to fight against the spread and severity of this virus,” the statement reads.
“Even before the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers was put into place, we are proud that the vast majority of our associates had been vaccinated against COVID-19 and continue to support the recently announced COVID-19 booster requirement. This not only ensures that we will have the staff available to treat our community, but is necessary to position our organization to be prepared to adequately and safely care for our patients,” the statement continues.
Oliva indicated that knowing the hospital’s position before the scheduled speech would not have caused the campaign to select another location in the region.
“There’s reasons hospitals need to be in good favor with the sitting governor. Rob is speaking up for science and 34,000 healthcare heroes who are out of job,” Oliva added.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.