SYRACUSE — New York’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health care workers that takes effect Sept. 27 could backfire on hospitals and nursing homes by leaving them short staffed, according to Republican members of the state Assembly.
In a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, the GOP lawmakers warned the mandate could lead to massive resignations and firings of health care workers who refuse the shot.
State Health Department data shows 20% of hospital workers and 24% of nursing home workers are unvaccinated. In Central New York, 23% of nursing home workers and 16% of hospital workers have not received shots.
By Sept. 27 workers at hospitals and nursing homes must have received at least the initial dose of vaccine. Workers can apply for medical exemptions, but not religious exemptions. Workers who don’t comply with the mandate could be fired.
“Losing approximately one-quarter of frontline caregivers to a blanket government mandate will decimate the workforce and compromise our safety net at a time when we need our healthcare professionals the most,” says the letter signed by Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, of Pulaski, and 41 other GOP members of the Assembly. “Prior to this mandate, we were already facing staffing shortages and burnout as a result of the pandemic.”
Stephen Hanse, of the New York Health Facilities Association, a nursing home trade group, said New York nursing homes expect to lose anywhere from 8% to 20% of their workers as a result of the vaccination mandate.
The majority of health care workers who have not received shots are unlikely to get them by Sept. 27, Hanse said.
Nursing homes in New York and nationwide are already short staffed, he said. If nursing homes lose more workers they won’t be able to accept new admissions from hospitals, which means hospitals in turn may not have enough beds for new patients, he said.
Hanse said the industry wants the state to give health care workers who refuse shots the option of wearing facemasks and submitting to weekly COVID-19 testing. The state is offering that option to teachers and other school employees who don’t want to get vaccinated.
Gov. Hochul said she knows the mandate is “problematic” because of the labor shortage.
“But we have to encourage more people to get vaccines so they can be in their workplace and we get back to normal and take care of people who are sick or who are in these various facilities,” Hochul said.