In early September 2021, Rick Pollack, the CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA) said that the association supports COVID-19 vaccine mandates and has been trying to increase vaccination rates in hospitals and health systems. He added, “As a practical matter, this policy may result in exacerbating the severe workforce shortage problems that currently exist.”1
In preparation for significant shortage of healthcare workers, Pollack has asked the federal government to address the workforce issue through implementing aggressive strategies.2 In a letter to congressional leaders, the AHA asked Congress to use part of the pending $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package to address the labor shortages at hospitals and in the healthcare sector.3
New York Health Care Workers Terminated for Declining COVID-19 Vaccination
According to a mandate issued by former Governor Andrew Cuomo on Aug. 16, 2021, all healthcare workers in New York State, including staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities including nursing homes, adult care and other congregate care settings, were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27, 2021.4
As of Sept. 22, state data showed that 84 percent of New York’s 450,000 hospital workers and 83 percent of its 145,400 nursing home employees had been fully vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.5 As the Sept. 27 deadline approached, hospital administrators developed contingency plans that included scaling back on non-critical services and limiting admissions at nursing homes in preparation of shortages due to staff terminations and suspensions by those healthcare workers refusing to get the COVID vaccine.6
On Sept 27, New York hospitals began firing health workers for defying the state order to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a requirement for employment.7
A woman who has been a nurse for 20 years said that she was terminated from her job at South Shore Surgery Center at Mather Hospital because she refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine. She said:
For us, it’s not just about vaccines, it’s about human rights as well, for the people that wanted to take the vaccine and these people I think should have taken the vaccine. I’m not against the vaccine. I’m also against human rights (violations), and you have the right to choose to take it, and I should have the right to choose not to if I feel like it’s not good for me.8
Stephanie Touchet, a health care worker at Orlin & Cohen Orthopedic Group in New York, who is unvaccinated, said she plans on reporting to work until they forcefully make her leave. “I’m going to stand my ground,” Touchet said.9
New York To Use National Guard and Migrant Health Care Workers to Replace Unvaccinated Health Care Workers
In response to the health care worker shortage in New York, current Governor of New York Kathy Hochul released a plan outlining a plan to overcome health care worker shortages. Some of the options listed in the plan include allowing qualified nurses and other medical workers licensed in other states or countries, recent graduates, and retired workers to practice in New York.
Other options listed include deployment of medically trained National Guard, requesting federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) and working with the federal government to expedite international visa requests for medical professionals.10
North Carolina Hospital System Terminates 175 Employees for Non-Compliance
Novant Health, a North Carolina-based hospital system said that it has terminated 175 health care workers for failing to comply with the COVID-19 vaccination mandate required for employment by Sept. 15.11
Novant Health said that initially 375 of its 35,000-employee workforce was non-compliant with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Those individuals were placed on a five-day unpaid suspension. The 175 employees who remained non-compliant after the five-day suspension were terminated. Employees that were granted religious and medical exemptions are required to take a COVID-19 test on a weekly basis and wear N-195 masks and eye protection on work premises.12
Laura Rushing, a nurse who has worked for Novant for 16 years, said that she is looking for new employment after her religious exemption was denied by the hospital. “Who decided my religious exemption, the wording used, was not good enough? It wasn’t as good as someone else’s? That just feels like discrimination and I didn’t appreciate it,” Rushing said.13
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1 King R. AHA concerned federal vaccine mandate could exacerbate severe worker shortage. Fierce Healthcare Sept. 10, 2021.
3 Shinkman R. AHA presents Congress with laundry list of requests for budget reconciliation bill. Health Care Dive Sept. 3. 2021.
4 New York State Government. Governor Cuomo Announces COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate for Healthcare Workers. Governor of New York Aug. 16, 2021.
5 Treisman R. New York May Use The National Guard To Replace Unvaccinated Health Care Workers. NPR Sept. 26, 2021.
6 ABC7 NY. NY COVID vaccine mandate for health care workers begins; unvaccinated workers face termination. Sept. 27, 2021.
7 Caspani M, Layne N. New York hospitals fire, suspend staff who refuse COVID vaccine. Reuters Sept. 28, 2021.
8 ABC7 NY. NY COVID vaccine mandate for health care workers begins; unvaccinated workers face termination. Sept. 27, 2021.
10 New York State Government. In Preparation for Monday Vaccination Deadline, Governor Hochul Releases Comprehensive Plan to Address Preventable Health Care Staffing Shortage. Governor of New York Sept. 25, 2021.
11 Oladipo G. North Carolina hospitals group has sacked employees who refused vaccines. The Guardian Sept. 28, 2021.
12 Williams J. North Carolina-based hospital system fires 175 for failing to comply with vaccine mandate. The Hill Sept. 28, 2021.
13 Oladipo G. North Carolina hospitals group has sacked employees who refused vaccines. The Guardian Sept. 28, 2021.