ALBANY, NY (WRGB) — Friday marks 46 days since Governor Kathy Hochul took office with the promise of getting the pandemic under control and rebooting the state economy, but how is she delivering on those goals as fallout continues from New York State’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers?
Hochul has offered to bring in the National Guard to fill the need for vaccinated nurses, but there are questions about how effective that plan would be to assist hospitals with their nursing shortages.
The state's vaccine mandate for healthcare workers went into effect on September 27th, but the National Guard is not required to get the vaccine until June 2022.
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According to a Department of Defense spokesman who emailed WRGB with data Friday evening, 44.37 percent of the nation’s National Guard members are partially vaccinated and 7.82 percent are partially vaccinated. The current number of vaccinated New York National Guard personnel was not available when we called agencies for the information earlier Friday.
In a statement, the DOD spokesman wrote, “Also, not all states and members drill at the same time. It will take time before there is true fidelity on National Guard personnel vaccination rates due to the nature of the organization as a part-time force.”
A spokesman for the New York National Guard tells WRGB quote "we are not a resource for nurses" explaining that there is a small percentage of National Guard members qualified to fill nursing positions.
WRGB’s Anne McCloy pressed Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin for answers on the how the Governor Hochul administration will handle the staffing crisis.
Lt. Gov Benjamin: We are monitoring the situation very closely. We have teams on the ground watching this closely we are not going to put the care of our residents at risk.
Anne: You’re talking about bringing the National Guard in to supplement, but the National Guard doesn’t have to be vaccinated until June of 2022, so how does it make sense to require healthcare workers in our state to be vaccinated? You’re not going to allow healthcare workers to go to work who are unvaccinated, but you’re going to bring people in who may not be vaccinated to fill the roles?
Lt. Gov. Benjamin: This is part of a thought of how we could possibly address the issues. It is not the intention to have anyone who is on the ground working who is not vaccinated, so we will make sure we manage that.
Benjamin: By doing it. What do you mean how?
Anne: Who is going to treat people in the hospitals?
Lt. Gov. Benjamin: Well, that’s going back to the question you just asked, we are monitoring the situation to the best of our abilities.
MORE: Hospitals provide unvaccinated numbers, while Hochul admin says data is unavailable
A New York National Guard spokesman told WRGB by phone that because National Guard positions are part-time civilian positions, guardsmen who are licensed nurses likely are already employed in the private sector.
Late Friday, Gov. Hochul's office sent WRGB a statement clarifying that it will not allow unvaccinated National Guard members to work in healthcare settings and that it has not deployed any National Guard personnel at this time.
There are more than 3,000 healthcare workers across the state seeking religious or medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate, that could be fired if the state wins court battles to force vaccinations for all healthcare workers.
The Governor’s Office was not able to provide the number of vaccinated National Guard members that could be deployed, or the number of National Guard personnel who are on-hand and qualified to fill nursing roles in case of a crisis situation.