NY hospitals start firing staff who don’t have COVID vaccine

It’s D-Day for mandates.

New York’s largest hospital system, Northwell Health, began sacking staff who refused to get their coronavirus vaccine shots as Gov. Kathy Hochul refused to yield on her Monday deadline for health worker inoculations.

Hochul stuck to her guns as many of the state’s major hospital and government employee unions continued their court battle to get the mandates tossed.

“I’ve made it loud and clear that I’m not going to change my position,” Hochul said during a Monday morning press conference. “I’m charged with protecting the health of all New Yorkers.”

Northwell — which operates Lennox Hospital in Manhattan and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens — confirmed it had fired roughly two dozen managers Monday after they repeatedly failed to get their shots.

“A few hundred unvaccinated leaders were contacted last week to take urgent action in regards to getting the shot,” said a Northwell spokesman in a statement. “About two dozen of them who were still not vaccinated were exited from the system.”

The spokesman said that the staffers were the exception and not the rule as the vaccination rate among the system’s 76,000-strong workforce is “already nearly 100 percent.”

“Northwell wants to reassure the public that during this time there will be no impact to the quality of patient care at any of our facilities,” he added.

Northwell Health fired roughly two dozen managers Monday after they refused to get their COVID-19 vaccines.
Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP, File

Hochul’s administration has OK’d allowing retired doctors and nurses to go back into practice, relaxed some requirements for out-of-state doctors and nurses and is even contemplating calling up the National Guard to head off short-staffing.

“We’re taking all the steps preemptively in anticipation of what I call a ‘preventable staffing shortage,” Hochul said. “Still preventable. Enough hours in a day. Come on down [to get your shots].”

Hochul’s order required hospital and nursing home staffers to get their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by Sept. 27.

The Big Apple’s sprawling public hospital system revealed Monday that nearly 90 percent of its hospital and care staff have been vaccinated.

That’s a dramatic uptick in recent weeks since Mayor Bill de Blasio first ordered workers there to get inoculated or face weekly testing, a mandate that was subsumed by Hochul’s later requirement that all staff get shots without exceptions.

But, the system’s boss, Dr. Mitch Katz, said that as of Monday morning, roughly 5,000 of its 43,000 staffers still needed to get their shot — mostly among the Health and Hospitals Corporation’s support staff.

More than 95 percent of the system’s doctors and nurses have been vaccinated so far, Katz said during de Blasio’s daily press conference.

He said that unvaccinated workers would have a chance to get their first shot when they arrived Monday — and if they refused, they would be sent home without pay.

Hospital workers and supporters demonstrate against the federal Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
Hospital workers and supporters demonstrate against the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates, on September 17, 2021.
Allan Tannenbaum / Polaris

Other major medical systems in New York City, including NYU-Langone and New York Presbyterian did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

More than 84 percent of New York’s 450,000 hospital staff across the state had received at least their first shot of a coronavirus vaccine as of Sept. 22, the most recent date the data was published.

The vaccination rate among the roughly 145,500 staffers in the state’s hard-hit nursing homes was even higher, 89 percent, as of Sept. 27.

But the state Health Department vaccination rate listed for hospital reveals that some facilities could face staffing problems.

Only 63 percent of workers at the SBH [St. Barnabas Hospital system] in The Bronx completed their vaccination series, as of September 21. Only 64 percent of workers in Interfaith hospital in Brooklyn and Richmond University hospital in Staten Island were fully vaccinated.

The full vaccination rate was 66 percent at Brookdale and 67 percent in Wyckoff, both hospitals in Brooklyn.

The mandate requires health employees to get at least one dose by Monday’s deadline, so more likely are in compliance.

Meanwhile, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring employers from denying workers religious exemptions tied to the state’s mandate, in response to a religious freedom lawsuit filed by 17 healthcare workers — the majority being Catholic — against Hochul, the DOH and Attorney General Letiita James.

Hochul however, has argued the state constitution does not allow for religious exemptions. Utica Judge David Hurd has until Oct. 12 to make a final decision.