New York’s largest health provider is the first hospital to announce it is firing employees for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of the state’s Monday deadline.
Northwell Health announced that it had fired about two dozen ‘unvaccinated leaders’ at management level or above out of around 74,000 employees.
With just 84 percent of 450,000 hospital staff having received at least one dose of the vaccine, that means another 72,000 hospital workers could also be suspended or fired for refusing to be inoculated, according to state data.
Severe shortages expected and hospital administrators have prepared contingency plans that included cutting back on noncritical services and limiting admissions at nursing homes.
New York Gov Kathy Hochul said this weekend she was prepared to call in medically trained National Guard members and retirees, or vaccinated workers from outside the state, to fill any gaps.
The governor has held firm on the mandate in the face of pleas to delay it and multiple lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.
Northwell Health (pictured) became the first hospital system in New York to announce that it had fired employees – about two dozen out of 74,000 – when the state’s vaccine mandate came into effect on Monday
About 84% of 450,000 workers have gotten a shot, meaning about 72,000 workers could be suspended or fired for refusing to do so. Pictured: Sandra Lindsay (left), a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine by Dr Michelle Chester in New York City, December 2020
Hospital administrators are preparing contingency plans that included cutting back on noncritical services and limiting admissions at nursing homes. Pictured: Hundreds gather at Foley Square in New York City to protest vaccination mandates, September 2021
The mandate for healthcare workers was issued in August by former Gov Andrew Cuomo and supported by Hochul when she succeeded him.
All health care workers in New York state at hospitals and nursing homes were required to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Monday.
Employees who refuse the shots face suspensions and termination.
The rules apply not just to people such as doctors and nurses, but also to others who work in health care institutions, including food service workers, administrators and even cleaners.
Northwell said in a statement that, last week, it reached out to a ‘few hundred’ employees to remind them of the impending Monday deadline.
‘We are now beginning the process to exit the rest of our unvaccinated staff,’ the statement read.
‘Northwell wants to reassure the public that during this time, there will be no impact to the quality of patient care at any of our facilities. We are proud that our workforce is already nearly 100 percent vaccinated.’
Gov Kathy Hochul is considering sending in the National Guard to hospitals or signing an executive order allowing recent graduates and retirees to work to help deal with staffing shortages. Pictured: Hochul speaks after meeting Irish prime minister Micheal Martin, September 2021
When the mandate was first announced, the state said that health care workers would not be allowed to receive religious exemptions, only medical exemptions.
However, a group of 17 workers sued New York for not allowing rejection of the vaccine on religious ground and a judge in Utica issued a temporary halt on requiring them to get the shot.
A federal judge on October 12 will consider a legal challenge arguing that such exemptions are constitutionally required.
The mandate comes as hospitals are already reeling from staff shortages fueled in part by workers retiring and employees seeking other jobs after 18 months of the pandemic.
On Saturday, Hochul released a plan on how she is considering addressing the staffing shortage.
One option is signing an executive order to declare a state of emergency that would allow healthcare care workers licensed in other states or countries to practice in New York as well a recent graduates and retirees.
Another is deploying the National Guard to hospitals or asking the federal government to send Disaster Medical Assistance Teams.
‘We are still in a battle against Covid to protect our loved ones, and we need to fight with every tool at our disposal,’ she 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.’
Deborah Conrad (pictured), a physician assistant at United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia, is among the healthcare workers who said she is opposed to getting vaccinated
The state’s Department of Labor has issued guidance that workers fired due to refusal to get vaccinate will not qualify for unemployment insurance ‘absent a valid doctor-approved request for medical accommodation.’
In addition to hospital workers, staff at long-term care facilities have until October 7 to receive at least one dose.
As of Monday, 89 percent of 145,000 have done so meaning 16,000 are currently at risk of termination.
But thousands of healthcare workers say they would rather get fired than be required to get the vaccine.
One of them is Deborah Conrad, a physician assistant at United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia – a small city between Buffalo and Rochester.
Conrad told The New York Times that she has seen people report side effects from getting the COVID-19 vaccine that deterred her from getting the shot.
‘We were all traumatized, vaccinated and unvaccinated,’ she said.
‘It’s very hard that the same [colleagues] who elevated me to this level now look at me as a dangerous person.’