COVID vax mandated for mental health, disability hospital workers

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a COVID-19 briefing in the state Capitol in Albany on Tuesday. Courtesy of Gov. Kathy Hochul's Office

ALBANY — Staff at state hospitals for patients with mental health issues or disabilities will be required to have at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine in less than one month, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday.

Personnel at all in-patient hospitals within the state Office of Mental Health and state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities must have at least one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose, or Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose coronavirus vaccines by Nov. 1.

Unvaccinated staffers will start to undergo weekly testing Oct. 12, but will not have a test-out option after Nov. 1.

“We want to make sure we have safety in those [facilities] as well,” Hochul said during a COVID briefing in the state Capitol. “These are our expectations — I don’t think there will be any surprises.”

Hochul expected to speak with White House officials about the mandate later Tuesday afternoon.

Each facility will decide the consequences for employees who refuse to get at least one COVID vaccine dose by the first of the month. The vaccine requirement does not also require employees be terminated.

They could be placed on paid or unpaid leave for an indefinite period, or could face termination, depending on the facility.

The new mandate will apply to all individuals working at the psychiatric hospitals in the OMH network and those working in specialty hospitals certified by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

It is too soon to know how either state agency plans to handle the requirement with their employees, representatives with Hochul’s office said.

The vaccination rate of OMH and OPDD hospital staffers was not available as of press time Tuesday.

The new mandate for state employees comes one week after New York’s COVID vaccine requirement for health officials — the first of its kind in the nation — went into effect to personnel at Department of Health-regulated facilities, including all hospitals and nursing homes.

Staffers at DOH-regulated adult-care facilities, home health agencies, AIDS home care, hospice care, diagnostic and treatment centers and long-term health care programs must have at least one COVID vaccine dose by the end of the day Thursday under a separate mandate.

“This makes sense,” Hochul said. “We’re going to start focusing on this right now and reaching out to them to let them know these are our expectations.”

It is unclear when the guidance under the state’s newest vaccine mandate will be released.

Hochul’s staffers had not seen the guidance, and did not know when it would become available.

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