How New York is avoiding potential health care worker shortages as vaccine mandate takes effect

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(NEW YORK) — All eyes are on New York as its vaccination mandate for health care workers — among the first in the nation — takes effect on Tuesday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order just before midnight on Monday that aims to alleviate potential health care staffing shortages as the mandate takes effect. The order removes barriers and expands eligibility to allow additional health care workers to provide care.

The executive order, which also allows many out-of-state and out-of-country health care workers to practice in New York, waives re-registration fees and expedites the re-registration process for retirees looking to re-enter the workforce, and it allows practitioners to work or volunteer in certain facilities.

Moreover, it allows physician visits in nursing homes to be done using telemedicine and allows New York State-licensed providers without current registration to practice without potential penalties. It also lets recent grads in a variety of health care programs to get straight to work.

Finally, it removes barriers for EMTs to practice and assist in additional settings and allows basic EMTs to vaccinate and test for COVID-19. It also expands the scope of practice to let midwives, registered nurses, physicians and nurse practitioners to more easily administer and order COVID-19 vaccinations and tests, as well as flu vaccinations.

Hochul also said she plans to work with the federal government to look at ways to expedite visa requests for medical professionals from other countries.

Northwell Health, New York’s largest employer of health care workers with more than 74,000 staffers, said in a statement on Monday that almost 91% of its workforce had been vaccinated.

“Northwell wants to reassure the public that patient care will not be affected by the New York State’s 9/27 vaccine mandate,” the statement said. “A system-wide workforce planning taskforce is working on contingency plans to ensure that we can meet staffing needs.”

Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, similarly downplayed any risk of a health care worker shortage, saying at a conference Monday, “I do believe that that hospitals will be prepared to get through this, again without a major impact to patient care.”

On Tuesday, all city-run and private hospitals appeared to be operating normally. About 500 nurses for New York City Health and Hospitals were not at work, but they had been preemptively replaced.

“We anticipated there would be some losses of staff. We knew that no matter what our efforts, some people would not get vaccinated, we planned appropriately,” Health and Hospitals President Dr. Mitch Katz said at a Tuesday news conference.

The sweeping action from Hochul’s office comes as small factions of health care workers in New York are still resisting the vaccine, despite a resurgence of virus cases linked to the highly contagious delta variant.

Despite some pushback, preliminary data from Hochul’s office indicates the mandate has been effective in boosting vaccination rates. The percentage of nursing home staff who had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose was at 92% as of Monday evening, up from 70% on Aug. 15, before to the mandate was announced. Moreover, 89% of adult care facility staff members have received at least one dose of the vaccine, up from 76% on Aug. 15.

Some 92% of hospital staff in the state had received at least one dose as of Monday evening, and 84% had been fully vaccinated as of Sept. 22 — up from 77% on Aug. 10.

“The only way we can move past this pandemic is to ensure that everyone eligible is vaccinated, and that includes those who are taking care of our vulnerable family members and loved ones,” Hochul said in a statement accompanying the executive order.

Hochul said she’s also directed an “around-the-clock operations center to assist local partners and troubleshoot staffing issues in real time.”

Workplace vaccine mandates have courted controversy for months despite assurances from public health officials that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission said employers legally can require COVID-19 vaccines to re-enter a physical workplace as long as they follow requirements to find alternative arrangements for employees unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons or because they have religious objections. Still, the mandates have spurred a handful of lawsuits across the U.S.

As of Monday, 83.7% of New Yorkers 18 or older had received at least one dose, and 75.1% were fully vaccinated. Nationally, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicated that 77.1% of the population ages 18 and up had received at least one dose, and 66.6% were fully vaccinated.

-ABC News’ Aaron Katersky and Matt Foster contributed to this report.

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