NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – New York health care facilities began the process of firing and suspending employees after New York’s first-in-the-nation vaccine mandate for health care workers took effect.

This as Gov. Kathy Hochul set up a command center to monitor staff shortages at hospitals, nursing homes and long-term facilities.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio says the number of people still refusing to get vaccinated at the city’s public hospitals is an “evolving” situation, but knowing there are still people in the anti-vaxxer category, the city took steps to fill the expected shortfall, at least for now.

“I did bring 500 nurses to Health+Hospitals to deal with the fact that I have about 500 nurses who are not currently at work,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of NYC Health+Hospitals. “We knew no matter what our efforts some people were not going to get vaccinated.

COVID VACCINE

Katz says his facilities are fully operational after Hochul’s precedent-setting vaccine mandate for people who work in hospitals, nursing homes and longer-term care facilities took effect at midnight. But other facilities are still coping with the fallout.

“I’m going to stand my ground. I’m going to continue to go to work until they actually tell me you can’t be here any more,” said Stephanie Touchet.

Touchet works for an arm of Northwell Health, and may not have long to wait. Northwell notified all unvaccinated employees at its 23 facilities that they are no longer in compliance with state law.

“We have begun a process to exit all unvaccinated team members,” Northwell said in a statement. “Northwell regrets losing any employee under such circumstances.”

The vaccine reluctant were also shown the door at St. Barnabas, a private hospital in the Bronx. Ninety eight workers, mostly nurses and housekeeping staff, were suspended. They have until Monday to get the shot or face dismissal.

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“We have a right to defend our people against a global pandemic, and we are entitled to take all means necessary to do that, and that’s what I’m going to do. This is all about self defense. I’m here to defend the people of New York,” Hochul said.

Meanwhile, Hochul signed an executive order to alleviate potential staffing shortages and shore up the medical establishment. The measures include:

  • A 24/7 operations center to troubleshoot acute situations with health care providers
  • Allowing out of state and out of country health care workers to practice in New York
  • Waiving re-registration fees for retirees
  • Allowing doctors to treat nursing home patients using telemedicine

“We sent out the alarm. We have a pool of individuals who want to help,” Hochul said.

Although thousands of the state’s nearly 700,00 health care workers remain unvaccinated, the governor says compliance has gone up. Preliminary data showed that:

  • 92% of hospital staff had received at least one dose of vaccine
  • The rate was 89% for adult care facilities
  • 92% for nursing home staff

Kevin Surdi, a Long Island ER nurse, got the vaccine but doesn’t think it’s fair to force people to take the shot.

“I would much rather get treated by an unvaccinated nurse than nobody at all. And that’s what’s going to happen. We are going to have short staff. We are not going to have enough nurses and doctors and health care workers to care for patients who came in with heart attacks, strokes, and their kids being sick,” Surdi said.

New York Presbyterian Hospital already instituted its mandate last week.

“You don’t want to shame anybody. Certainly no one wants to lose a job, and we don’t want anybody to lose their job, but we felt that had to be the choice that people would make,” said. Dr. Steve Corwin.

Meanwhile, the State Supreme Court Officers Association won a temporary restraining order to prevent the system from implementing a vaccine mandate for the 1,400 men and women who work in courthouses in the five boroughs.

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Union president Patrick Cullen says members have the right to make their own decisions on health matters.

Marcia Kramer