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Facing health care workforce shortage amid vaccine mandate, Hochul preps emergency plan

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Don Pollard
/
Office of the Governor

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday that she’s prepared to declare a state of emergency if the state’s vaccine mandate for the health care industry results in an unmanageable shortage of workers when the rule goes into effect Monday.

That would allow the state to bring in health care workers from other states or countries, as well as those who’ve either recently graduated or previously worked in the industry, she said.

"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,” Hochul said.

In a last-ditch effort to convince unvaccinated health care workers to get the shot before the Monday deadline, Hochul also said the state has issued guidance that would prevent unvaccinated health care workers who are fired to collect unemployment.

The state is also considering activating medically-trained members of the National Guard to fill gaps in the health care workforce, and could work with the federal government to bring in teams of medical workers to help local health care facilities.

Hochul also said the state would work with the federal government to potentially bring in medical professionals from other counties by expediting the visa process.

Leading up to the mandate, there have been anecdotal reports of an anticipated workforce shortage in the state’s health care industry.

New York is requiring all health care workers in the state to get their first shot of any of the available COVID-19 vaccines by Monday, September 27. If they’re not vaccinated at that point, and aren’t protected through recent court orders, they won’t be able to work.

Some groups have been able to avoid the mandate through litigation. On Friday, non-judicial workers in the state court system were granted a temporary reprieve from the mandate, meaning those workers will be allowed to miss the deadline for now.

Last week, a federal judge also granted a temporary restraining order that will allow health care workers to claim religious exemptions to the vaccine through approval from their employer. Those exemptions are not guaranteed.

That could all change as those lawsuits continue. The state has said it plans to defend against each legal challenge to the mandate, and that kind of litigation can take weeks, or months, to resolve.

About 84% of New York’s health care workforce was vaccinated, as of Wednesday, according to the Hochul administration. For nursing homes, that number is closer to 77%.

Dan Clark is the host and producer of New York NOW, a weekly television show focusing on state government produced by WMHT in Albany. Clark has been reporting on New York state government and politics for the last six years, during which time he's worked out of the state Capitol in Albany. Clark reported for the national political fact-checking publication PolitiFact, the Buffalo News, the statewide political television show Capital Tonight, and most recently the New York Law Journal. At the New York Law Journal, Clark has focused on state legal challenges to President Donald Trump, as well as litigation concerning laws enacted by the New York State Legislature. Clark covered the Legislature in each role he's held and is a familiar face to state lawmakers and staff. Clark is a native of Afton, NY in Chenango County. He's lived in Albany with his husband since 2011.