New York healthcare workers need to get their COVID-19 shots, or they could be out of a job. The state is preparing for a potential major exodus of staff due to the new vaccine requirements. Gov. Kathy Hochul says the mandate could put New York in a state of emergency. Officials are even considering bringing in the National Guard to help fill in the gaps if some facilities lose too many staff members.
But one Rochester nurse says she’s not backing down any time soon. She’s not ready to lose her job over the mandate, but it doesn’t look like she will have a choice.
Holding Out Until the End
Krista Michael has been working at Unity Hospital for 30 years. She’s upset to see her governor put healthcare providers in this situation.
“I’m very disheartened that the governor just feels that we are dispensable,” Michael said.
She says she might get the vaccine someday, but it’s nobody’s business when or why.
“I don’t want to be rushed into taking something,” Michael said. “My initial hope was to give it a couple years, I’d like to see how people who have taken it are doing physically in the next year, couple years.”
She feels that the mandate is violating her personal choice.
“As far as a mandate I just don’t think it’s the government’s place to force me to take something, otherwise my career is jeopardized,” she added.
She said she already had COVID-19.
“Being that I already have natural immunity as a survivor I would like to have more time to choose, I would like the privilege to choose, period.”
For her, getting the jab is all about timing.
“I’m not opposed to vaccines in general, I wouldn’t say that I’m anti-vax, it’s just for this one with the rush,” Michael said. “I just don’t feel the need for me to take it right now and I don’t want to be forced.”
As for possibly losing her job, she’s planning for the worst-case scenario.
“I don’t plan to resign; I will go to work until they escort me out.”
The Contingency Plan
Officials say the state could lose as many as 83,000 healthcare workers over the new mandate. Around 16% of the workforce remains unvaccinated.
Some facilities, such as Northwell Health, say they have already fired dozens of unvaccinated healthcare workers.
At the Erie County Medical Center, about 5% of the staff, or 400 workers, remain unvaccinated and on leave.
CEO and president Tom Quatroche said, “We stopped elective inpatient surgeries. We stopped some of our outpatient patient visits. We stopped ICU medical transfers from other referral rural hospitals…We’ve asked for more time to work on strategies with the state to ensure that as many people as possible get vaccinated.”
In addition to possibly bringing in the National Guard, Gov. Hochul added that she plans to bring in healthcare workers from neighboring states, as well as recent graduates and newly retired providers to shore up the state’s hospitals and medical facilities. She says she also plans to work with federal and state officials to get visas to providers from overseas.
The situation remains in flux as thousands of providers choose between getting the shot and possibly losing their jobs.
Despite the fallout, administrators and public officials remain hopeful that facilities will have the staff they need to provide patient care.
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said, “I had conversations with health care systems yesterday, there’s an awful lot of their staff still getting vaccinated this weekend. So part of the challenge is understanding where we’re going to be in just a couple days but I’m confident.”
Facilities are also seeing a sharp rise in the number of applications for religious exemptions. A federal judge recently put a pause on the mandate for those who claim religious exemption, which extends through October 12.
As for providers like Michael, they’re taking it day by day.
“I am a bit overwhelmed; I am in my 50s but I still have a lot to give, I have a lot to offer, I love my job, my coworkers, patients,” Michael said.