White House Continues to Tout Vaccine Mandates as New York Prepares for Health Care Worker Shortages

By Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino covers the White House.
September 27, 2021 Updated: September 27, 2021

The White House is doubling down on its support for vaccine mandates in the private sector even as hospitals in the state of New York prepare for staff shortages from mandates.

Monday, Sept. 27, marked the deadline for workers in New York hospitals to get fully vaccinated. But thousands in that setting still have yet to get the jab and many refuse. This prompted New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to announce on Monday her intent to sign an executive order allowing her the power to deploy the National Guard to replace health care workers. She said that providers can also allow workers licensed in other states and countries, as well as recent graduates and retired health care professionals, to work in the state as well.

“They are taking steps to work with health care systems to ensure that they have alternatives, that they can backfill as needed,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “And that certainly is something we support, that some states like New York are doing.”

According to Hochul’s office, about 84 percent of health care workers in the state are vaccinated, meaning that 16 percent aren’t.

The move by the White House comes as a new rule to be issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is expected in the coming weeks, requiring vaccines for 80,000 private sector workers nationwide. President Joe Biden’s executive order creates the rule to require businesses with 100 workers or more to demand that its employees be vaccinated, or show proof of a negative COVID test twice a week. Fines for companies that don’t comply with the law could total as much as $13,600.

Psaki said she expects OSHA will take into consideration the roll out of state-level mandates as it crafts its new rule.

“I’m sure they will look at how it’s applied to different health systems across they country as well as businesses, and how they’ve applied it across the country in the private sector where it’s been implemented as well,” she said.

Psaki pointed to some health systems that chose to implement mandates before it was required by law. She said Houston’s Methodist Hospital lost 153—less than one percent—of its 25,000 employees due to vaccine mandates, 65 people out of 33,000 health care workers in Maine lost their jobs, while Henry Ford hospital in Detroit went from 68 percent vaccinated to 98 percent after they put a mandate in place.

“We’re seeing in a lot of places that this is working. It’s effective, it’s creating more certainty and protection in our workforces,” she said.

But reports from New York tell a different story. Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, located upstate, announced it would pause some elective procedures for two weeks over the shortages, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, which operates the facility.

“Patients can expect longer wait times for routine appointments, some employees will be asked to take on new responsibilities, and temporary bed closures are possible,” the University of Rochester said in a statement, stressing that emergency services and critical care will continue.

On Sept. 24, a hospital in Lowville, located in upstate New York, stopped delivering babies—at least temporarily—as several employees who worked in the maternity ward resigned over the vaccine mandate.

Biden is scheduled to travel to Chicago on Wednesday to continue to promote his vaccine mandate plan and ask more businesses to put vaccine mandates in place.

Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino covers the White House.