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From New York to California, some cities and states prepare to face shortages of healthcare workers, teachers, police and firefighters as vaccine mandate deadlines loom and workers threaten to quit or be fired, rather than comply.
New York hospitals on Monday began firing or suspending healthcare workers for defying a state order to get the COVID vaccine. Resulting staff shortages prompted some hospitals to postpone elective surgeries or curtail services. Gov. Kathy Hochul took executive action Monday night to allow medically trained National Guard troops to fill in for hospital workers who refused to comply with the state’s vaccine mandate in healthcare settings.
The mandate requires doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers statewide to show proof by midnight Monday of having received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine in order to continue working.
In addition to National Guard troops, Hochul’s order allows the state to tap retired healthcare workers and hospital workers from out of state in the event of vaccine-related staffing shortages.
At New York City’s 11 public hospitals, about 5,000 of the 43,000 employees (about 12%) were not vaccinated as of Monday morning, said Dr. Mitch Katz, NYC Health + Hospitals CEO.
“Over 95% of my nurses are vaccinated today … close to 98-99% of my doctors have agreed (and been vaccinated) and all our facilities are open and fully functional,” Katz said when asked whether he was aware of any staffing shortages.
Unvaccinated employees at the 11 public hospitals will be put on unpaid leave but may return if they get vaccinated, according to NYC Health + Hospitals spokesperson Stephanie M. Guzmán.
Any employee of a state-run healthcare facility who does not receive at least one dose of a COVID vaccine by the end of the day Monday, barring approved exemptions, “will be immediately suspended,” according to the New York State Department of Health.
Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo suspended elective inpatient surgeries and stopped accepting intensive-care patients from other hospitals as it prepared to fire hundreds of unvaccinated employees, spokesman Peter Cutler said.
Cutler said the decision to curtail some operations would inconvenience patients and hurt hospital finances. Elective inpatient surgeries bring in about $1 million per week.
“We had to make a decision as to where we could temporarily make some changes so that we could ensure other areas of services are as little affected as possible,” Cutler said. “Financially, it’s a big deal.”
As of Monday evening, 92% of hospital staff, 92% of nursing home staff and 89% of adult care facility staff had at least one vaccine dose, the governor’s office said. As of this past weekend, 16% of New York’s 450,000 healthcare workers were not fully vaccinated.
Dr. Marty Makary, surgical oncologist and chief of the Johns Hopkins Islet Transplant Center, said in a Tweet, swapping out experienced nurses with the National Guard who are not familiar with the hospital’s systems, local ways of doing things and emergency protocols has risks.
He called on others to recognize natural immunity “instead of demonizing our heroes who put their lives on the line and got COVID.”
Swapping out experienced nurses with nat guard who are not familiar with a hospital’s systems, local ways of doing things & emerg protocols has risks.
Recognize natural imm, instead of demonizing our heroes who put their lives on the line and got Covid.https://t.co/3JKenx9Yqo
— Marty Makary MD, MPH (@MartyMakary) September 27, 2021
Although the vast majority of healthcare workers have been vaccinated against COVID, CNN reported, the requirement could still lead to a significant number of workers unable to work — shortages that could lead to worse medical care for patients with the illness.
Gov. Hochul asked remaining unvaccinated healthcare workers to “please do the right thing,” calling getting vaccinated “simple common sense.”
“What I would say is [we need] to do some work, to educate these healthcare workers, to meet them where they are, to understand where their hesitancy is so we can get them vaccinated and get them back to work.”
NY City teachers have until 5 p.m. Friday to comply with vaccine mandate, after court lifts temporary ban
New York City school workers have until 5 p.m. Friday to show proof of at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, after a federal appeals court on Monday lifted a temporary ban on the mandate originally set to take effect Monday.
A three-judge panel had been scheduled to hear the case Wednesday, almost a week after the court granted a temporary injunction from a judge on Friday. Instead, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan issued its ruling Monday evening, in a move that shocked many, dissolving Friday’s injunction and denying the original motion, NBC New York reported.
The United Federation of Teachers said 3% of teachers (about 3,400) remain unvaccinated
The Department of Education (DOE) praised the judges’ decision. But the city’s largest teachers union wasn’t so quick to celebrate the new developments.
In a statement, the United Federation of Teachers said that while the city’s estimates had 97% of teachers being vaccinated, a recent union survey showed “only about one-third (of United Federation of Teachers above chapter leaders) believe that as of now their schools can open without disruption, given the potential shortage of unvaccinated personnel.”
Lawyers representing teachers who sued to block the mandate said they will petition the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a local CBS News report.
Staten Island special education teacher Rachel Maniscalco is one of the teachers suing the DOE in federal court. She blasted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“It’s almost as though the dictator is just feeling slighted and trying to do everything in his power to ruin the people who just don’t agree with him,” Maniscalco told CBS2’s Dick Brennan.
Attorney Mark Fonte, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of teachers and others, told Crain’s New York Business he and attorney Louis Gelormino were immediately petitioning the Supreme Court to intervene.
“As of this moment the mandate is in place,” he said, adding that he and Gelormino were “dismayed and disappointed by this turn of events.”
Fonte added: “With thousands of teachers not vaccinated the city may regret what it wished for. Our children will be left with no teachers and no security in schools.”
Dozens of Massachusetts state police troopers resign over COVID vaccine mandate
Dozens of Massachusetts State Police troopers put in their resignation papers following the state’s COVID vaccine mandate, the State Police Association of Massachusetts (SPAM) said.
“It is unfortunate the governor and his team have chosen to mandate one of the most stringent vaccine mandates in the country with no reasonable alternatives,” State Police Association President Michael Cherven said in a statement.
Chervin said the troopers should have “reasonable alternatives” to being required to get vaccinated, such as wearing masks and being tested regularly.
Last week, a state judge denied a request from the state’s police union to block the governor’s vaccine mandate for troopers, according to WBZ-TV. Up to 20% of state police employees remain unvaccinated, the police union’s attorney said.
The union, which represents 1,800 workers, released a statement following the judge’s decision:
“Throughout COVID, we have been on the front lines protecting the citizens of Massachusetts and beyond. Simply put, all we are asking for are the same basic accommodations that countless other departments have provided to their first responders, and to treat a COVID-related illness as a line of duty injury.
“To date, dozens of troopers have already submitted their resignation paperwork, some of whom plan to return to other departments offering reasonable alternatives such as mask wearing and regular testing. The State Police are already critically short staffed and acknowledged this by the unprecedented moves which took troopers from specialty units that investigate homicides, terrorism, computer crimes, arsons, gangs, narcotics, and human trafficking, and returned them to uniformed patrol.”
A source told WBZ-TV on Monday only one state trooper has told human resources he would resign because of the vaccine mandate. Others spoke with HR to evaluate what their pensions would be if they chose to retire, the source said.
With the judge’s ruling, unvaccinated troopers were given only a few days to get their first vaccine dose or they could face disciplinary action.
Firefighters in Rhode Island, Los Angeles fight back against mandates
A Rhode Island Superior Court judge is blocking local firefighters’ attempts to challenge the state health department’s mandate for all healthcare workers, including EMTs, to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 or risk losing their jobs and licenses.
The Rhode Island Association of Firefighters requested an injunction that would have halted enforcement, arguing that the vaccine mandate violates the firefighters’ collective bargaining agreements, which are protected by the Firefighters’ Arbitration Act, a state law that requires negotiation of employment terms and conditions.
The Providence firefighters’ union was not part of the lawsuit. Last week it issued a statement claiming it could lose 10% of its workforce if changes aren’t made to the Oct. 1 mandate.
“Even the most well-intentioned policies have consequences,” the union said at the time. “It is our duty to say that the consequences of this mandate will cause undue hardship on the very firefighters that protected us.”
Earlier this month, Los Angeles firefighters sued the city over its mandate that all employees must receive the COVID vaccine.
The firefighters lawsuit claims the mandate violates employees’ constitutionally protected autonomous privacy rights. The group filed on behalf of the Firefighters 4 Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit representing 529 department members.
The plaintiffs in the case are “pawns in a political chess match, ordered by 13 politicians on the Los Angeles City Council to inject themselves with an experimental vaccine — over their objections — or lose their jobs,” the lawsuit states.
The L.A. City Council passed a mandate requiring city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID by early October. The firefighters seek a temporary restraining order on the mandate until a hearing and further order of the court is in place, claiming the city doesn’t have the right to force compliance.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “hundreds” of sworn and civilian Los Angeles Police Department staff have joined firefighters in opposing the mandate.
“We are supportive of individual rights, personal choice and for managing our own health,” LA Police Department Sgt. Veronica Saucedo said. She said Roll Call’s members are concerned that they will be terminated or fired by the city if they don’t get the vaccine.
Unions representing police and firefighters are warning that the city will be less safe if officers are terminated or leave over the vaccination mandate.