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Unvaccinated NY health care workers won't be rehired, despite mandate overturning and staffing 'crisis'

(Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP)
(Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP)
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New York Governor Kathy Hochul is indicating that the overturning of the state's COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health care workers will not allow any unvaccinated individuals to return to their roles.

The state is in the midst of an ongoing health care staffing shortage, with one Capital Region hospital official calling the situation a "crisis." In several regions, emergency room patients have recently waited hours and even days for a bed.

New York's highest court struck down the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers nearly two weeks ago, with one judge calling it "null and void." The mandate, which asked hospitals and nursing homes throughout the state to develop individual policies enforcing vaccinations, was implemented by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2021. Hochul extended it the following year.

However, as state health facilities wait for guidance following the legal decision, Hochul appears to be standing firm on the pandemic-era requirement.

It's a problem, but I don't think the answer is to have someone who comes in, who is sick, be exposed to someone who can give them coronavirus, give them COVID-19," Hochul told reporters Tuesday, while acknowledging the widespread staffing shortages. "I don't know that that's the right answer. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not.

It is estimated that New York lost nearly 34,000 health care workers due to the vaccination requirement. The departures are attributed to a mixture of terminations and resignations.

I think everybody who goes into a healthcare facility or nursing home should have the assurance, and their family members should know, that we have taken all the steps to protect the public's health," Hochul said. "And that includes making sure that those who come in contact with them at their time of most vulnerability, when they are sick or elderly, will not pass on the virus."

When broached with the idea of implementing other measures, such as masking, and re-hiring unvaccinated workers, Hochul stressed that the state cannot take the risk.

I truly understand the challenge and the balance, and these are never easy decisions," she said. "But I cannot put people into harm's way because when you go into a healthcare facility, you expect that you're not going to come out sicker than when you went in."

Hochul indicated Tuesday that she is considering options to challenge the overturning of the vaccine mandate.

In her State of the State address earlier this month, Hochul proposed various measures to attract and retain health care workers, including raising pay and improving workplace infrastructure.

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