From the desk of Betsy Combier:
So after thousands of State and City employees have resigned, retired, been discontinued or terminated without any due process, New York State officials “wake up” to massive shortages in healthcare and elsewhere, including fire stations, public schools, police and municipal workers.
This is an unprecedented time, for sure, but the yoyo behavior of the government implementing mandates then rescinding them, ignoring federal, state and local contracts, rules and laws is permanently scarring our hard-working public employees. This will stop, but it will then be too late. No one will want to work in such chaos.
An emergency medical technician with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office administers a booster COVID-19 vaccine shot during a drive-thru clinic booster clinic last October in Bethlehem. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration on Friday announced it will not enforce a booster-shot mandate for health care workers that was set to go into effect on Feb. 21. [Will Waldron/Times Union]
Feb. 21 deadline had been set for eligible health care workers to get shot or face termination
Times-Union, Brendan J. Lyons, February 18, 2022
ALBANY — The state Department of Health, citing the potential for critical staffing shortages, on Friday announced it would not enforce a mandate that goes into effect on Monday requiring eligible health care workers to receive a booster shot or face potential suspension or termination from their jobs.
“In order to avoid potential staffing issues and give health care workers more time to get boosted, the state will no longer enforce the booster requirement that will go into effect on Feb. 21,” the department said in a statement. “The state will reassess in three months whether additional steps need to be taken to increase booster rates among the health care workforce. The original vaccination requirement for health care workers remains in effect.”
The announcement came three days after the Times Union reported that more than 200,000 workers impacted by the policy had not reported receiving booster shots. The Health Department on Friday said that 75 percent of the state’s health care workforce have received booster shots, or indicated they would be willing to get one. That figure among direct care staff in hospitals is around 88 percent, officials said.
“The vaccine and booster are critical tools to keep both healthcare workers and their patients safe, and we continue to urge everyone to get vaccinated and receive a booster dose when eligible,” state health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett said in a statement. “While we are making progress … the reality is that not enough healthcare workers will be boosted by next week’s requirement in order to avoid substantial staffing issues in our already overstressed health care system.”
As of Feb. 8, there were 239,927 health care workers at private facilities — out of 514,144 statewide— that were reported as not having a a booster shot. That estimate includes individuals who may have been vaccinated in the past six months but are not yet required to receive the booster, as well as others who may have received their booster shot but have not reported it.
A spokeswoman for the State University of New York said earlier this week that approximately 80 percent of staff at their three hospitals were in compliance with the booster mandate.
The booster-shot policy has some exceptions, including for workers who have recently had COVID-19 or received their final vaccination shot less than six months ago.
The Health Department issued a regulation last year requiring hospital workers and other employees in congregate health care settings to be fully vaccinated. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration amended that directive on Jan. 21 and gave those workers one month to also receive a booster shot “absent receipt of a medical exemption.”
The facilities in which health care employees are required to have a vaccination booster include hospitals, nursing homes, home care entities and hospice service providers.
The vaccine mandates for health care workers are the subject of pending court challenges, including a federal lawsuit filed in Utica on behalf of 17 medical workers who contend the state’s failure to consider religious exemptions has violated their constitutional rights.
The legal arguments are focused on why employees with qualifying medical exemptions are afforded the ability to take a rapid test before each shift and wear an N95 mask, but those same accommodations are not being offered to workers who provide a “sincere” religious objection.
The group of plaintiffs are a mix of mostly physicians and nurses “who allege that their sincere religious beliefs compel them to refuse the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available,” according to court records.