Northwell Health, which employs more than 76,000 people as New York State’s largest health care provider, has fired 1,400 of its workers after they refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, the company announced Monday.
Then-Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) announced in August that all health care workers in New York, including staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities, were required to get at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by Sept. 27.
In a statement, Northwell said it took a “rapid, aggressive approach to move successfully toward full vaccination compliance” and that retaining more than 97% of its workforce, with each employee vaccinated, would allow the provider to offer “exceptional care at all of our hospitals, without interruption and enable all our facilities to remain open and fully operational.”
A Northwell spokesperson said although it regrets losing employees due to the mandate, having a fully vaccinated workforce is “an important measure in our duty to protect the health and safety of our staff, our patients and the communities we serve.”
Northwell’s vaccine policy requires both clinical and non-clinical staff to be immunized, which is a step beyond the state’s mandate.
Last week, the hospital network fired roughly two dozen “unvaccinated leaders” for refusing to get their jab.
New York healthcare workers who are terminated due to their unwillingness to get vaccinated are not eligible for unemployment insurance without a doctor-approved request for medical accommodation. Workers in a healthcare facility or nursing home who “voluntarily quit or are terminated for refusing an employer-mandated vaccination” are ineligible to collect unemployment insurance because their employers have a “compelling interest” to enforce vaccine mandates, according to the New York Department of Labor.
Officials in New York, like those in many other states that issued similar mandates, were concerned about potential staffing shortages at hospitals and long-term care facilities, considering polls taken earlier in the year indicated more than 30% of Americans said they would refuse to get vaccinated. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said last month she would sign an executive order allowing her to deploy medically-trained National Guard troops and retired healthcare workers to hospitals if such measures were needed. “I’ve made it loud and clear that I’m not going to change my position,” Hochul said. “I’m charged with protecting the health of all New Yorkers.” However, vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. began decreasing following a surge in the dangerous Delta variant and FDA approval of the Covid-19 of the shot. Additionally, nationwide data show employer-issued mandates have proven effective in rapidly increasing inoculation rates among workers. The vaccination rate of New York-based hospital and nursing home workers spiked 10% in the week prior to the Sept. 27 deadline, rising to 92%, state officials said, including more than 95% of the system’s doctors and nurses.
“As health care professionals and members of the largest health care provider in the state, we understand our unique responsibility to protect the health of our patients and each other,” Northwell said in a statement.