Nurses and those who support them held a demonstration Feb. 2 outside Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown to call for better working conditions.
One of their demands was for safe staffing levels. Medical facilities nationwide are experiencing a nursing shortage. In fact, the health care industry has been hit by a loss of workers across the spectrum over the past few years.
“As the pandemic stretches on with no clear end in sight, one of the biggest unanswered questions is what this experience has meant, and ultimately will mean, for those who’ve been on the front lines throughout — the nation’s health care workforce — and the patients they serve,” according to a story published July 28 by U.S. News and World Report. “An estimated 1.5 million health care jobs were lost in the first two months of COVID-19 as the country raced to curb the novel coronavirus by temporarily closing clinics and restricting non-emergency services at U.S. hospitals. Though many of those jobs have since returned, health care employment remains below pre-pandemic levels, with the number of workers down by 1.1%, or 176,000, compared to February 2020, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
During the pandemic, New York required health care workers to be vaccinated and receive updated booster shots. But state Supreme Court Justice Gerard J. Neri invalidated the directive last month by declaring that Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul and the state Department of Health exceeded their authority in ordering it; state officials said they would appeal this decision.
Oddly, Hochul responded to this ruling by stating that unvaccinated health care workers would not be allowed to return to their jobs. Given the seriousness of the labor shortage in the medical industry, it would seem reasonable for her to reconsider her position on this.
Requiring health care workers to be vaccinated against the effects of COVID-19 makes a lot of sense. It’s puzzling why so many people working in hospitals and other medical facilities would refuse to protect themselves against a horrendous disease with something that’s been proven to be effective.
The judicial ruling on this mandate, however, pointed out a flaw in the state’s approach. Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo first issued this directive under authority of the state Legislature.
His emergency order was rescinded in June 2021, but the state Department of Health reissued the mandate permanently a year later. This directive was overturned on the premise that since there’s nothing in New York’s public health law allowing it, state officials overstepped their limits.
There was a period of time when the vaccine helped protect most people from becoming infected by the coronavirus. But the virus has mutated to the point where this is no longer the case.
Vaccinated people are about as vulnerable to becoming infected as unvaccinated individuals, although the immunization offers them more protection against the worst symptoms of COVID-19. So being fully vaccinated is still the best way to guard against serious illness and death but not necessarily from becoming infected and spreading the virus to others.
We continue to believe that health care workers should get the vaccine and updated boosters unless they have an adverse physical reaction to them. But Hochul needs to rethink her stance on allowing them to return to their jobs in light of the court’s ruling. The staffing shortage has become a crisis, and reversing course on this may help fill some of the gaps.
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