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Northwell says it has fired two dozen workers who refused to get vaccinated

Healthcare workers at hospitals and nursing homes in

Health care workers at hospitals and nursing homes in New York State were mandated to have at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by midnight Monday. Some Long Islanders protested the requirement in Smithtown. Newsday's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Howard Schnapp; NY Governor's Office; File Footage

Employees of two health systems on Long Island have been fired or were facing unpaid suspension on Monday for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccination required under a state mandate.

Northwell Health said it had fired about two dozen "unvaccinated leaders" — and that those numbers could grow — for not getting at least their first dose to help protect against the coronavirus. Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside said 68 of its employees are facing unpaid suspension for defying the mandate.

Health care workers at hospitals and nursing homes — under an Aug. 16 order from former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — were required to receive at least the first dose by midnight Monday. Workers at adult care facilities, hospice and home care entities have until Oct. 7 to get at least a first dose.

New Hyde Park-based Northwell said in a statement that it reached out to a "few hundred" employees last week to remind them of the mandate. The unvaccinated leaders are at the management level or above, the health care provider said.

"We are now beginning the process to exit the rest of our unvaccinated staff," Northwell said in a statement. "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. We are proud that our workforce is already nearly 100 percent vaccinated."

Northwell said it is complying with the state mandate and requiring other employees to be vaccinated through its own policy, which it enacted over the summer. Before Monday's deadline, all unvaccinated and partially vaccinated Northwell employees were required to be tested for COVID-19.

Partially vaccinated employees will continue to undergo routine COVID-19 testing until they complete their vaccination series, the hospital system said.

Northwell is the state's largest health care system, with 19 hospitals, including 11 on Long Island, and more than 77,000 employees.

Mount Sinai South Nassau said about 97% of its 3,657 full- and part-time employees are vaccinated and that the hospital expects to "maintain all critical services without interruption, including elective surgeries." About 100 of its employees have applied for religious exemptions, which are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis, Mount Sinai said.

It was still unclear how many employees may be fired at other Long Island facilities. But Karen Roses was one of the ones who refused the vaccine.

Roses, a patient care technician who just became a unit secretary at Peconic Bay Medical Center, said she worked hard through the COVID-19 crisis to help care for patients even when there was a lack of personal protective equipment for staff.

"I will not be forced, I will not be bulled to take a vaccine I don’t believe in, that I don’t believe is safe," Roses, of Mattituck, said during a Monday protest outside of St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown by health care workers angry about the mandate.

She had not heard whether she would be let go from her job.

At Stony Brook University Hospital, officials said 90.3% of employees had been vaccinated as of Monday afternoon. "We are monitoring the situation to optimize preparedness and make staffing adjustments as necessary," the hospital said in a statement.

Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack was able to retain all of its full-time nursing staff, but fired 27 employees who declined to be vaccinated, CEO Stuart Almer said.

"We put many measures in place over the past several weeks — including hiring new staff and managing our admission volume — in anticipation that some employees would choose to leave their jobs rather than be vaccinated," Almer said. "We are confident we have enough staff in place to properly and safely care for our residents going forward."

Catholic Health, which operates St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill, Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip and several others on Long Island, said the "vast majority" of its staff is fully vaccinated.

"As of this [Monday] morning, 87% were vaccinated, and this number continues to increase," said Dr. Jason Golbin, Catholic Health executive vice president and chief medical officer.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday she is assuming emergency powers to bring in the National Guard, retired medical personnel and others from outside the area to fill in for workers who refuse to get vaccinated. "We have sent out the alarm," she said at a news briefing. "We have a pool of individuals who want to help."

Hochul said she needs the executive order to address issues such as workers from out of state having their medical licenses validated for use in New York.

"We are not relenting. We are not backing off. This is important," Hochul said. Leaders of hospitals "have thanked me for being firm in this."

Nick Langworthy, head of the Republican Party in New York State, called the plan by Hochul — a Democrat — to pay for outside workers "insanity."

Hochul said people who come into health care facilities deserve to know they will not be infected by workers with COVID-19.

Workers who oppose it said the mandate is an infringement of their personal freedom or religious beliefs, or have doubts about the side effects of the shots. Hochul, backed by most medical experts, said the shots save lives and prevent serious illness.

Asked Monday whether nurses will have to pick up extra duties and work extra hours if food service workers, custodians and others refuse to get the shots, Hochul said that is likely.

"Kathy Hochul has officially assumed the Cuomo throne with her impractical, nonsensical and punitive vaccine mandate that will cripple our state’s health care system," Langworthy said. "Our health care workers are doing yeoman's work, and firing them to bring in the National Guard and foreign, unlicensed and inexperienced workers to replace them at a huge cost to taxpayers is pure insanity."

Last week, Hochul said she was working with the U.S. State Department to possibly expedite visas for health care workers from countries including the Philippines.

Statistics released Monday by the state show 70% of the population in Nassau County is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. About 63% of Suffolk County's population is fully vaccinated.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing for COVID-19 continued to inch downward on Long Island, to 3.38% on Sunday, from 3.40% the previous day.

Nassau registered 203 new cases in test results Sunday, while Suffolk logged 295 and New York City had 1,178.

Statewide, 24 people died of the virus on Sunday, with three of the fatalities in Suffolk.

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What to know

Under a state order, health care workers at hospitals and nursing homes in New York have until midnight Monday to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or face losing their jobs.

Northwell Health said it fired about two dozen staffers in management positions who refused to get vaccinated. It is currently contacting other employees who have said they will not get vaccinated.

The number of health care workers on Long Island being fired for not complying with the state order is expected to grow by Tuesday morning.

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