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Health systems furlough or suspend hundreds of unvaccinated workers

Catholic Health Services says it has furloughed several

Catholic Health Services says it has furloughed several hundred employees who didn't comply with a state mandate to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Credit: Newsday/David Reich-Hale

Catholic Health Services has furloughed several hundred employees for defying a state mandate to get vaccinated against COVID-19, while Stony Brook University Hospital has suspended without pay close to 200 employees, officials said Tuesday.

Those dismissals and suspensions came after Northwell Health on Monday fired about two dozen people in leadership positions for not abiding by the order requiring staff at hospitals and nursing homes to get the vaccine. Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside said Tuesday that 49 of its employees were suspended without pay for defying the mandate.

On Tuesday, Northwell said all unvaccinated employees were now facing termination for not getting at least one shot of the vaccine by the deadline of midnight Monday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul released statewide data Tuesday showing 92.3% of all hospital staff and 93.3% of direct care staff — those who are in contact with patients — have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

What to know

  • Catholic Health Services says it furloughed several hundred employees who defied a state mandate to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Stony Brook University Hospital has suspended without pay close to 200 employees who had not been vaccinated.
  • Northwell Health, which fired two dozen workers on Monday, says all unvaccinated staffers face termination for refusing to adhere to the state order requiring staff at hospitals and nursing homes to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside said 49 of its employees were on unpaid suspension for defying the vaccine mandate. 

In nursing homes, 92.6% of all staff and 92.3% of direct care staff have received at least one dose, according to the state. The data was preliminary and self-reported by hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities.

Catholic Health Services praised its workers for serving throughout the pandemic, and insisted the furloughs would not affect operations. Workers who refuse to get the vaccine will be placed on furlough for two weeks, after which they will be terminated if they remain unvaccinated, officials said.

"The vast majority of our staff is fully vaccinated with only a few hundred people furloughed from across six hospitals, three skilled nursing facilities, home health care, hospice and numerous physician practices," said Dr. Jason Golbin, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Catholic Health. "The public can rest assured, knowing that there is no interruption in the safe, quality care Catholic Health provides."

Golbin said the health network made the move to comply with state law and to keep "our commitment to ensuring the health and safety of our patients, visitors, medical staff and employees."

Stony Brook University officials said fewer than 200 employees "are being placed on suspension without pay and will be scheduled to meet with Labor Relations representatives to discuss their circumstances. While awaiting this meeting, they can use vacation or holiday time off. If they continue to elect not to receive the vaccine, they will be terminated in accordance with the NYS DOH order."

The university said 93% of its hospital employees had been vaccinated, and the number continued to go up.

The officials said that less than 1% of the system's employees were now in a "probationary" period, and even though they were currently suspended without pay, they could be vaccinated before the terminations were processed, and may return to work.

Northwell, the state’s largest health care system, did not immediately say Tuesday how many employees of its roughly 77,000-person workforce could be fired.

"Northwell Health today notified all unvaccinated team members that they are no longer in compliance with New York State’s mandate to vaccinate all health care workers by September 27," it said in a statement.

"We have begun a process to exit all unvaccinated team members using a carefully planned approach that both maintains continuity of care at all of our facilities and ensures the safety of all of our patients."

The vaccine mandate was first announced by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in August and covers staff at hospitals, nursing homes, adult care and congregate care settings.

Workers at adult care facilities, hospice and home care entities have until Oct. 7 to get at least a first dose.

On Tuesday, officials at Mount Sinai South Nassau said the number of its employees who had been suspended without pay for defying the mandate ticked down steadily to 49, from 87 on Monday, as more staffers provided proof of vaccination.

Officials said employees who were not vaccinated by Oct. 4 would be terminated.

The hospital said about 97% of its 3,657 full- and part-time employees were vaccinated and that it expects to "maintain all critical services without interruption, including elective surgeries."

About 100 Mount Sinai South Nassau employees have applied for religious exemptions to the order, which officials said were being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

NYU Langone said Tuesday it had a 99% vaccination rate among employees throughout its health care system and that even with the mandate, "There will be no disruption to any of our services and no impact to the quality of patient care we deliver. We continue to gather information from all of our locations with regard to last-minute vaccinations and exemptions."

The health system expects to have final numbers by the end of the week on how many employees would be dismissed for failing to get the shot.

Hochul has said she supports the vaccine mandate, arguing that patients need to know they will not be infected with the virus by health care workers. Those who oppose the mandate say it infringes on their personal freedom or religious beliefs, or are worried about side effects.

Medical experts said the vaccine is safe, and is the key to ending the pandemic.

Several court cases challenging the mandate are pending, but Hochul said they involve relatively few people.

Meanwhile, Long Island registered 775 new COVID-19 cases — 306 in Nassau and 469 in Suffolk — in test results from Monday. New York City logged 1,393 new cases.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing for the virus dropped again on Long Island, to 3.27% from 3.38% the previous day.

Across the state on Monday, 31 people died of causes linked to the virus. They included four in Nassau and one in Suffolk.

In New York City, the coronavirus vaccination deadline for public school personnel was extended to Friday, after a federal appeals court did not block the mandate set to take effect Tuesday, officials said.

With a few exceptions, any teacher, principal or other worker who hasn’t received at least one shot won’t be allowed to work in the nation's largest school system beginning Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

"For anyone who has not gotten a dose by Friday at 5 p.m. — after all the encouragement, all the support, all the incentives — we’re gonna then assume you’re not coming to work Monday morning … and we will immediately find a substitute, and then those [unvaccinated] folks will go on leave without pay," de Blasio said Tuesday at his daily news conference.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Friday had stopped enforcement, but on Monday lifted the suspension. De Blasio said the delay to Friday was to account for the development in court.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said the city estimates 97% of teachers were vaccinated against COVID-19. But according to a recent survey of UFT chapter leaders, only about one-third believe their schools can open without disruption, since they expect a possible shortage of unvaccinated personnel, including school aides and security personnel.

"The city has a lot of work before it to ensure that enough vaccinated staff will be available by the new deadline," Mulgrew said in a statement. "We will be working with our members to ensure, as far as possible, that our schools can open safely as the vaccine mandate is enforced."

Dr. Mitch Katz, head of the city’s public hospital system, which is under its own vaccine mandate, says the vaccination rate is high in hospitals and other facilities, and among nurses the rate is 95% full vaccination.

With Matthew Chayes

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