nurse vaccine

A MATTER OF CHOICE: New York Presbyterian, NYU Langone Health and other health networks have issued mandates for employees to receive the coronavirus vaccine, causing unions including the New York State Nurses Association and Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union to condemn the requirements. George Gresham, president of 1199, advocated for members to be able to make their own health decisions. Above, a health-care worker gets vaccinated.

With some hospital systems across the city and state implementing mandatory coronavirus vaccinations as a condition of employment, several unions representing health-care workers strongly oppose their members being coerced into compliance.

Last month, New York Presbyterian became the first hospital system in the state to require the COVID vaccine for its 48,000 employees. Staffers who cannot receive the shots for religious or medical reasons must apply for an exemption. So far, about 70 percent of staffers have been inoculated, according to New York Presbyterian.

Cites 'Alarming Variants'

“Having witnessed the devastation of the pandemic, we know how important it is for all of us to be protected against this deadly virus and its unpredictable and alarming variants. Everyone must have received their first dose of the vaccine, or have an approved exemption, no later than Sept. 1, 2021,” the hospital network said in a statement.

The mandate was not unprecedented: New York Presbyterian previously established vaccine requirements for influenza, measles, rubella, and varicella.

“We understand that this may be a difficult decision for some, and are committed to continuing our work with each team member to inform, educate, and provide the necessary resources to support them throughout this process…While the vaccination program is a condition of employment, our hope is that all of our employees remain with our team,” the statement concluded.

Other health-care systems across the state have also issued similar requirements. NYU Langone Health, which operates hundreds of locations in the city, stated that employees must be inoculated once final Federal approval of the vaccine is granted.

Then It's Mandatory

"To ensure the ongoing safety of our patients, staff and community, once a COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the [U.S.] Food and Drug Administration, it will be mandatory for all faculty and staff, voluntary attending physicians, and contractors onsite at each of our locations,” the health-care network said.

The largest hospital system in the state, Northwell Health, is requiring newly hired employees to be vaccinated.

Although hospital workers were more likely to be vaccinated against the coronavirus than the general population, gaps remained. About 73 percent of hospital workers across the state were fully vaccinated, with that figure lagging slightly at 70 percent among hospital workers in the city, according to the state Department of Health.

The city’s system, NYC Health+Hospitals, has not indicated that it would require vaccinations for staff.

The Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents more than 250 hospitals in the tri-state area and Rhode Island, has supported the mandates.

'Fully Vaccinated Helps'

“Every hospital and health-care system is trying to achieve a 100-percent COVID-19 vaccination rate of their workers,” said the organization’s president, Kenneth Raske. "Every institution is discussing how to achieve that goal, and some may choose to emulate the mandatory approach. Hospitals are committed to delivering the best health care for our patients. A fully vaccinated workforce helps in this mission.”

The mandates may put the hospital systems at increasing odds with unions representing health-care workers. Two labor groups with health-care members, the New York State Nurses Association and Communications Workers of America, have released statements opposing mandatory COVID vaccinations as a condition of employment.

In a statement, CWA’s executive board said that it “strongly supports” vaccinations to protect against COVID, but stressed it favors “voluntary vaccination programs and opposes mandatory vaccination as a condition of employment…Employers should bargain in good faith all conditions of workplace vaccine-related policies and procedures.”

NYSNA declined to comment on New York Presbyterian and other hospital networks announcing vaccine requirements. The union previously made clear that it “does not support mandatory immunization as either a condition of employment or as a state or Federal mandate.”

Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 400,000 health-care workers in the eastern part of the country, has taken the strongest stance against vaccine mandates for its members.

'Their Decision to Make'

Union President George Gresham told Gothamist that he believed health-care workers “have the right to make their decision about their own health.” 

“Whether there is a legal challenge that we can make, or whether it's just a pure organizational challenge that we can make, we are not going to just give in,” he said.

Despite the fact that the vaccines have not received full Federal approval, unions may be facing an uphill battle against mandatory inoculations. Late last month, a Federal Judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit filed by over a hundred employees at Houston Methodist opposing the hospital’s COVID vaccine requirement, which was issued in April.

The hospital required staffers to get inoculated or receive a two-week suspension. More than 150 employees were fired or resigned over the mandate.

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