Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York is considering calling in the National Guard and recruiting medical professionals from other states to cover looming staff shortages at hospitals and other facilities as the likelihood grows that tens of thousands of health care workers will not meet the state’s deadlines for mandated vaccinations.
In a statement released on Saturday, the governor’s office said Ms. Hochul was laying plans for an executive order to declare a state of emergency that would “allow qualified health care professionals licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, retired and formerly practicing health care professionals to practice in New York State.”
Other options, the statement said, included calling in medically trained National Guard members to deliver care and to work with the federal government to deploy Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, which are operated by the Department for Health and Human Services.
Hospital and nursing home employees in New York are required to receive a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by 11:59 p.m. on Monday night, while workers working in home care, hospices and other adult care facilities must do so by Oct. 7, according to state regulations and a mandate issued on Aug. 16 by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
State vaccination figures show that, as of Wednesday, 16 percent of the state’s roughly 450,000 hospital workers, or about 70,000, were not fully vaccinated. The data show that 15 percent of staff at skilled nursing facilities and 14 percent of workers at adult care facilities are also not fully vaccinated, representing another 25,000 or so workers.
Eileen Toback, executive director of the New York Professional Nurses Union, which represents 1,500 nurses in Manhattan and supported the vaccine mandate, said she appreciated that Ms. Hochul was trying to address possible staffing shortages. But Ms. Toback criticized the state for issuing the plan only 48 hours before thousands of health care workers could lose their jobs.
“That could be devastating, particularly when hospitals staff only the exact numbers they need,” Ms. Toback said. “There’s no fat on that bone.”
Ms. Toback said about 5 percent of her union’s members have not been vaccinated. “I believe a lot of unvaccinated employees, not just nurses, are banking on the fact that they are so necessary that they won’t be terminated, and they are holding out,” she said.
The governor’s office said workers terminated because they refuse to be vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment insurance unless they provide a doctor-approved request for a medical accommodation.
In announcing New York’s determination to enforce its deadline, Ms. Hochul said, “We are still in a battle against Covid to protect our loved ones, and we need to fight with every tool at our disposal.” She also commended the vast majority of state health care workers for getting vaccinated and urged “all remaining health care workers who are unvaccinated to do so now so they can continue providing care.”
The Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents about 140 health systems and 55 nursing homes, had not issued a response to the governor’s plan but has supported the deadline for health care workers’ vaccinations, signaling that staffing shortages can be managed.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Michael A.L. Balboni, executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association that represents about 80 nursing homes in the metropolitan area, applauded the governor’s effort to get more health care workers vaccinated but expressed concern about staffing shortages.
“This is a paradox, in that in trying to protect the residents and staff you don’t have enough people to provide the services and you could put people in jeopardy,” Mr. Balboni said.
Ms. Toback said retirees and others could play a role in helping to alleviate shortages, as they did early in the pandemic. But she said replacement workers were no substitute for experienced nurses who have worked at the same hospital for “13 shifts a month, every month, for years.”
“Nurses have been through a great deal — they’re burned out — and although we appreciate the need for what we need to get through this pandemic, this is just hitting people when they’re down,” Ms. Toback said.
Northwell Health, which operates 19 hospitals in the state, said in a statement that it “wants to reassure the public that patient care will not be affected” by the mandate and that it was working on contingency plans to meet staffing needs.
Unvaccinated employees at Northwell Health have been notified that they could be terminated if they do not receive at least their first dose of the vaccine by the deadline, the statement said.
“We are optimistic that we will soon be able to provide a fully vaccinated staff to our patients and the communities we serve,” the statement said.
Michael Levenson contributed reporting.