State health department not enforcing vaccine mandate for healthcare workers while working to repeal it

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The commissioner of the New York State Department of Health said Tuesday that his agency is not enforcing the state’s mandate that all healthcare workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 while it works to actually repeal it.   

Weeks ago, the state said it would be dropping the mandate amid a number of legal challenges but many hospitals and nursing homes say they’re still waiting for official guidance from DOH before hiring back workers who haven’t been vaccinated.

Roughly 30,000 healthcare workers statewide were fired for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data previously released by the DOH.  Locally, most hospitals lost between 500-1,000 workers each. 

While the mandate was put into place back in 2021 under an emergency order, it’ll take at least a few months to actually repeal it. Any state regulation needs to be reviewed by the regulatory body that oversees the DOH, which is the Public Health and Health Planning Council. That council will make an official recommendation following a 60-day public comment period.

The NYS DOH Commissioner Dr. James McDonald was in Rochester on Tuesday. News10NBC asked him to address healthcare facilities who say they are waiting for state guidance.

“I really don’t know that any guidance is needed from us. If employers are choosing to wait, that’s up to them if they want to do that but we’ve already told them we’re not enforcing it so there’s really no reason to wait, as far as we’re concerned,” he said. 

Previously, a spokesperson for URMC has told News10NBC, “Since the Department of Health has directed facilities to develop their own policies, URMC has begun the process of revising COVID vaccine requirements and policies for employees. We will implement changes consistent with public health guidance while continuing to protect our patients and staff.” 

When News10NBC followed back up after the Commissioners’ comments on Tuesday, that spokesperson said, “URMC has begun interviewing unvaccinated former employees, part of our standard hiring process. We expect some [newly-hired] individuals to begin in the next few weeks.”