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Hochul backs vaccine mandate

Health care employee crunch looms

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference.

Health care facilities created plans last year to handle capacity issues. Gov. Kathy Hochul suggests those plans be dusted off as staffing shortages loom in health care facilities statewide.

Hochul made her remarks in response to reporters’ questions during a news conference Wednesday in Albany.

“This won’t happen for a couple weeks anyhow,” Hochul said. “This was just anticipatory that the requirement goes into effect in a couple of weeks. We’ll be on it. I’m not going to let this be a problem for the state of New York. I will make sure that we have the resources. And people are required to have temporary staffing plans anyhow. Hospitals are required to have a game plan if they end up, you know, what if a mass flu hit a whole hospital and they had a staffing issue? They need to prepare for this, but I’ll be there to help with the Department of Health.”

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August mandated that all health care workers get their first dose of the vaccine by Sept. 27. All other health care facilities — including diagnostic and treatment centers, home health agencies, long-term home health care programs, school-based clinics and hospice care programs — must have workers vaccinated by Oct. 7.

Fredonia’s WCA Home on Temple Street announced last week that it was bracing for the loss of almost one-third of its staff due to the state’s vaccine requirement. The facility said six unvaccinated employees have served notice that they plan to leave.

Nick Ferreri, owner of The Tanglewood Group, said in a letter released by state Sen. George Borrello that employees who quit will leave behind an “ominous situation of grossly under-staffed facilities for those who remain employed” while mentioning the 100 memory-impaired residents and 130 elderly residents of The Tanglewood Group who need care.

In response to a reporter’s question about a Chautauqua County assisted care facility that could lose one-third of its staff, Hochul referred to state-required COVID-19 plans created last year as a roadmap for health care facilities to use. Those plans required health care facilities to show how they can increase bed capacity by 50% if COVID cases surged, but it’s unclear how those plans would be affected by a shortage of workers. The governor also said the state Health Department will help where it can, but shifted focus from the looming worker shortage by appealing to health care workers who are on the fence regarding vaccination to remember why they joined the health care profession in the first place.

“And maybe it’s incumbent upon us right now to make sure that they’re actually following what they’re supposed to do to be prepared. That being said, I have actually had conversations with the Department of Health and everyone in health care, in the state of New York to figure out how we can send support if necessary,” Hochul said. “But that is a frightening number to think that, if you go into a hospital in a place like that, that one-third of the people taking care of you may not be vaccinated. I think that people need to start realizing that when you stand up and say, I want to be a public health official in any capacity, we count on you to be healthy yourselves and to make sure that we don’t spread the virus. So, I’m pleading with them, to understand that this is not intended to be dictatorial. It’s intended to save lives and to allow you to do something that you’re obviously passionate about, or else you wouldn’t be in the healing profession, whether you’re a nurse, a doctor, an orderly, or anyone who is in that institution.”

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked New York from enforcing the mandate after a lawsuit was filed by a group of 17 health professionals who said their Constitutional rights were violated because the mandate disallowed religious exemptions. The judge gave New York state until Sept. 22 to respond to the lawsuit in federal court in Utica. If the state opposes the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary court order blocking the vaccine mandate, a Sept. 28 oral hearing will occur.

Hochul on Wednesday defended the state’s vaccine mandates while also unveiling additional mask mandates for all staff, visitors and children attending state-regulated child care facilities. Hochul said the state will appeal the federal court ruling.

“I believe the mandates are smart,” Hochul said. “I still believe that they are one of the reasons we are having an increase in number of people getting vaccinated. I’ve heard that from hospitals. They’re seeing more of their healthcare workers who are on the fence, taking their time, evaluating. And so we are having the effect we want. Yes, there’ll be some individuals who will try to defy this. There’ll be court decisions that we’ll appeal. We’re going to continue appealing those and trying to win on the merits”

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