New York prepares to fire unvaccinated healthcare workers

(AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

As we learned over the weekend, teachers in New York City won a court victory to delay their termination if they don’t get vaccinated by midnight tonight. But healthcare workers around the state apparently didn’t come up with a similar plan, or if they did, it didn’t work. A similar mandate applying to them is set to go into effect after today and it applies to doctors, nurses, and just about everyone else working at any hospital, nursing home, doctor’s office, or other medical facilities. Given the significant number of frontline healthcare workers who are among the vaccine-hesitant, that’s going to leave a lot of job openings to fill in this critical workforce. Some may have expected New York’s new Governor to back off from the mandate rather than deal with all of the headaches this could cause, but that’s not the case. Kathy Hochul is sticking to her guns and rolling out a number of plans to bring replacement workers in from a variety of sources, including summoning up medical personnel from the National Guard. (NPR)

Gov. Kathy Hochul released a plan on Saturday, outlining the steps she could take to increase the workforce in the event that large numbers of hospital and nursing home employees do not meet the state’s deadline.

“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 said.

That could mean declaring a state of emergency to allow health care professionals licensed outside of New York, as well as recent graduates and retirees, to practice there. Other options include deploying medically trained National Guard members, partnering with the federal government to send Disaster Medical Assistance Teams to local health and medical systems.

The default reaction by executives in New York continues to be the declaration of a state of emergency, allowing them to operate outside of the law. In addition to calling in the military and federal Medical Assistance Teams from FEMA, Hochul is reportedly “looking into” ways to expedite the visa approval process for trained medical professionals seeking to come to America from other countries.

The one question I’m not seeing being asked by reporters in Albany (yet) is how the Governor is “looking into” these plans on the day that the mandate is supposed to go into effect. This mandate was issued by Andrew Cuomo well before Hochul even took office. Everyone has known about it for more than a month and it was also no secret that there were many hospital and nursing home workers who were not volunteering to be vaccinated and had no plans to do so. Everyone knew this day was coming. How is it that they are now scrambling to find replacement workers?

Let’s also not forget that we’re talking about men and women who work in the medical field professionally. Granted, not everyone with such a job is automatically an expert in virology specifically, but they are likely a fair bit more savvy about medical issues than the rest of us. If they aren’t comfortable taking the vaccines, shouldn’t their opinions and decisions be part of the formula when rolling out plans like this?

That brings us to the other point in this debate, dealing with the inflexibility of many of these plans. Other states have put mandates in place that offer the option of submitting weekly COVID test results for those who are not vaccinated. Why couldn’t that work for New York’s medical workers? Unless they’re all using forged test results (which are definitely available in New York, sadly) then you would still be ensuring that there wouldn’t be much viral transmission going on and we wouldn’t be stuck looking for thousands of nurses and other workers on short notice.

I remain skeptical that we’re actually going to learn anything (as a society) from this exhausting experiment in authoritarianism. But the voters need to rein in these executive powers enacted under the excuse of a public health crisis or other disaster situation. There will always be too many mayors and governors who get a taste of that sort of power and will be reluctant to let it go.