Over 84% of NY Hospital Workers Were Vaccinated Before Mandate
- 84% of hospital workers in New York state have chosen to be vaccinated prior to the mandate taking effect. According to the Governor's Office.
- 91% of healthcare workers at New York’s largest healthcare employer, Northwell Health’s staff, have been vaccinated. The system issued a statement that as of Monday, almost 91% of its employees had been vaccinated and that they anticipated no problems with future staffing or providing appropriate patient care. "Northwell wants to reassure the public that patient care will not be affected by the New York State's 9/27 vaccine mandate," they said in the statement. "A system-wide workforce planning task force is working on contingency plans to ensure that we can meet staffing needs."
- As of July 2021, 88% of nurses nationwide have either been vaccinated or plan to be, according to a survey by the American Nurses’ Association. That number is higher now. The number of nurses nationwide who have declined the vaccination–with or without mandates remains low.
- And according to health officials in the state, the mandate did appear to make a difference in prompting some hospital workers to get last-minute vaccinations––last week, 8,000 workers remained unvaccinated. By Monday, however, that number had dropped down to 5,000, representing about 10% of the state’s workforce.
About The Mandate
New York’s vaccination mandate deadline expired Monday night at midnight, making Tuesday the first day that all healthcare workers in the state had to be vaccinated or face losing their jobs.
Along with the mandate, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed an executive order into law Monday night to bring new healthcare workers into the state, preempting potential staffing shortages. Governor Hochul along with other government officials feel there is an immediate and critical need to supplement staffing to assure healthcare facilities can provide care.
The statewide emergency disaster emergency executive order allows the following:
- Out-of-state and even out-of-country healthcare workers to practice in the state
- Permits calling in the National Guard if needed
- Waives some fees and expedites the process for retirees to come back to work
- Expands practitioners’ work and volunteer scope to facilities outside of their own.
Overall, while prepared to address staffing shortages if necessary, the reaction from officials in the state is one of calm reassurance that patient care will not be affected and staffing shortages will not be worsened.
"I do believe that hospitals will be prepared to get through this, again without a major impact to patient care,” Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in a press conference on Monday.
What Happens to Nurses who Refuse the Vaccine?
The exact details surrounding what happens to employees who decline vaccination are still playing out. Some hospitals in New York have already terminated nurses and healthcare workers who refused the vaccine.
Nurses in New York who refused the vaccine due to a religious exemption, however, have some additional time. Although the state’s emergency regulation banned religious exemptions, that has been superseded by a lawsuit filed by 17 medical workers. Until Judge David N. Hurd in Utica issues, a ruling on that lawsuit, nurses and workers who applied for the religious exemption can continue to work until October 12. Medical exemptions were also allowed for workers who cannot get the vaccine due to medical reasons, such as a life-threatening allergy to any of the vaccine’s ingredients.
The details on if nurses who quit or are terminated for turning down inoculation are eligible for unemployment are murky too. According to USA Today, each state sets its own unemployment eligibility rules, but it is possible that termination for not adhering to company policy could make you ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Vaccine Mandates Remain a Sticky Subject
While the majority of nurses nationwide have chosen to be vaccinated, not all nurses are in favor of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, making looming state mandates a sticky subject, even among healthcare workers who support vaccination.
In Nurse.org’s State of Nursing survey responses––with 1200 respondents so far––an overwhelming majority of those surveyed felt strongly that healthcare professionals should be vaccinated against COVID-19. A majority also strongly agreed that a vaccine mandate should be in place for nurses; however, the second closest response was a “strong disagreement” with a vaccine mandate. On a smaller scale, the real-life nurses we reached out to gather opinions for this piece, also strongly supported the COVID-19 vaccine for nurses overall, but stopped short of a blanket mandate.
One retired veteran ER nurse from Michigan who wished to remain anonymous explains to Nurse.org that she doesn’t support national or state mandates and is “on the fence” about institutional mandates as well. However, she admits that she can also “see both sides to this.”
“I know I would prefer to have a nurse that has been vaccinated to take care of me or my family members over someone that hasn't,” she added. “There are also religious and medical reasons for waivers. My husband has had an employee out for almost six months due to COVID. In the meantime, they are paying her health insurance and other benefits, all while she is not there working. It can get costly for business owners to continue to pay these for something that could have been prevented.”
K., a nurse from Oregon who started her career in the cardiac PCU that was converted to a COVID unit, explains to Nurse.org that she has “mixed feelings” about the vaccine mandate that will go into effect in her state on October 18. She’s also worried about the potential to lose coworkers when her facility is already struggling to stay staffed.
“On the one hand, it’s our duty as nurses to not spread disease to our vulnerable patients. We get vaccinated for plenty of other diseases, and this vaccine is no different,” K tells Nurse.org. “On the other hand, we are already critically short-staffed. When we lose a good chunk of staff to the mandate—and we will—I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ll probably have to take unsafe patient loads and do the bare minimum of care. We already lost a really good nurse whom everyone liked on my unit because he refused to get vaccinated. I have no doubt we’re going to lose more. I just hope we have enough staff to keep everyone safe.”
Sierra W., BSN, RN, CCRN-CMC, who has been a COVID nurse at Troy Beaumont in Michigan since the start of the pandemic, also relates that she understands that not everyone––nurses included––have faced the virus head-on as she has.
“Not everyone has witnessed the brutality of the COVID disease or how it harms its victims and their loved ones like I have,” she tells Nurse.org. “I, personally, do think that the vaccine is both safe and protective, and I do feel that it is appropriate for healthcare workers in a hospital setting, but I recognize that not everyone has the same feelings that I do.”
Sierra adds that she thinks until the vaccine is fully accepted by the public and healthcare personnel as safe and effective, a blanket mandate may not be the solution we all need.
“It is my wish that this pandemic will come to an end,” Sierra says. “Hopefully, further studies and community recognition will guide us toward wise and considerate standards. Until then, we must each make careful decisions with the knowledge we have, not just for ourselves, but also for those around us and the people we care for.”
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