Dozens of hospital staffers across Long Island were fired or suspended for not complying with a New York State mandate to get the Covid-19 vaccine by the Sept. 27 deadline, officials said.
The mandate prompted fears that staff shortages could cause some hospitals to postpone elective surgeries or curtail services, although the impact did not appear as dramatic at the nearly two dozen hospitals across Nassau and Suffolk counties. The impact may be felt in other regions with lower vaccination rates, experts say.
“We have begun a process to exit all unvaccinated team members using a carefully planned approach that both maintains continuity of care at all of our facilities and ensures the safety of all of our patients,” New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health said in a statement, noting that about two dozen workers left the system. “Northwell regrets losing any employee under such circumstances, but as health care professionals and members of the largest healthcare provider in the state, we understand our unique responsibility to protect the health of our patients and each other. We owe it to our staff, our patients and the communities we serve to be 100 percent vaccinated against Covid-19.”
Days before the deadline, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she was considering employing the National Guard and out-of-state medical workers to fill staffing shortages, with 16% of the state’s 450,000 hospital staff not fully vaccinated. Healthcare workers who are fired for refusing to get vaccinated will not be eligible for unemployment insurance unless they are able to provide a valid doctor-approved request for medical accommodation, Hochul’s office said.
The inoculation push comes as President Joe Biden and other state and federal political leaders ratchet up pressure on unvaccinated Americans, some of whom object to mandates on religious or health grounds. The state health department issued a deadline mandating that all healthcare workers receive at least their first Covid-19 shot, triggering a rush by hospitals to get their employees inoculated. A federal judge in Albany temporarily ordered New York state officials to allow religious exemptions for the state-imposed vaccine mandate on healthcare workers.
“The vast majority of our staff is fully vaccinated,” said Greg Sleter, a spokesman for Catholic Health, which has six hospitals across the region. “As of [the vaccine deadline], 87% were vaccinated and this number continues to increase.”
Several other hospitals on LI said they were still gathering data on the vaccine mandate staff departures as of press time.
As far as patients at local hospitals go, officials say that the majority of people admitted for treatment of Covid-19 are unvaccinated, with so-called breakthrough cases — people who’ve been inoculated but catch coronavirus anyway — making up about 20%.
Northwell officials said that was the breakdown as of Sept. 20, when it had 350 Covid-19 patients hospitalized, and Sleter said that figure was true of the 116 patients that were admitted as of Sept. 27.
“The vast majority of vaccinated Covid patients are not critically ill,” Sleter added.
Barry Rosenthal, M.D., chairman of the emergency department at NYU Langone Hospital — Long Island, agreed, and put his estimate at 90% of the 20 to 25 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 on average each day at the Mineola hospital.
“The vast majority of patients who are hospitalized with Covid, they’re not sick with breakthrough Covid, they’re here with new Covid for which they had not been diagnosed,” he said.
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