ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday she is prepared to call in medically trained National Guard members, retirees and workers outside New York to address potential staffing shortages caused by an approaching vaccine mandate for health care workers.
If necessary, Hochul said, she will declare a state of emergency through an executive order designed to address staffing shortages in hospitals and nursing homes once the mandate takes effect Monday.
Many health care workers have still not yet received a required first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine days before the deadline, leaving the prospect of potentially thousands of health care workers being forced off the job next week.
The order would allow health care professionals who are licensed in other states or countries, are recent graduates, or are formerly practicing health care professionals to practice in New York, Hochul said, noting she is exploring ways to expedite visa requests for medical professionals.
The governor said she also has the option of deploying National Guard members and partnering with the federal government to deploy Disaster Medical Assistance Teams.
“I am monitoring the staffing situation closely, and we have a plan to increase our health care workforce and help alleviate the burdens on our hospitals and other health care facilities," she said in a prepared release.
As the state made its preparations, New York City officials were temporarily blocked from enforcing a similar vaccine mandate for its teachers and other school workers. The city mandate was set to go into effect Monday, but a federal appeals judge granted a temporary injunction Friday and referred the case to a three-judge panel an an expedited basis.
Hospitals around the state have been preparing contingency plans that included cutting back on elective surgeries. Many nursing homes were limiting admissions.
“We’re roughly about 84% statewide vaccinated right now, so any initiatives that the governor could advance to increase the workforce is welcome and needed,” said Stephen Hanse, who represents nursing homes statewide as president of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living.
Hochul, a Democrat, has resisted calls to delay the mandate, and her 11th-hour announcement could ratchet up pressure on vaccine holdouts. She said workers terminated because of refusal to be vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment insurance without a doctor-approved request for medical accommodation.
Also Saturday, Hochul announced in a tweet that booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine were now available in New York for those who received Pfizer as their primary vaccine and are 65 years and older or 50 years and older with underlying medical conditions. Recipients must have had their second dose at least six months ago.
“We want to make it as seamless as possible for New Yorkers to receive a booster dose and we’ll provide more guidance & details in the coming days,” she tweeted.