Hundreds of Brooklyn health care workers face chopping block due to vaccine mandate

Vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn
A staff member at Hamilton Park Nursing and Rehabilitation, a nursing home facility, receives the COVID-19 vaccine in early January.
REUTERS/Yuki Iwamura

Hundreds of Brooklyn hospital workers are facing the sack for not complying with the newly implemented state vaccination mandate for health care employees. But most of Brooklyn’s hospitals are keeping under wraps the exact number of employees who are getting canned.

State data as of Wednesday shows that Brooklyn’s hospital workers have the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate of the five boroughs, at just 79 percent. The percentage for the whole city is 87 percent.

Of the hospitals and hospital networks with Brooklyn operations that Brooklyn Paper contacted, only two — Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park and SUNY Downstate Medical Center in East Flatbush — would provide hard numbers.

Maimonides spokesperson Suzanne Tammaro said that a little over 200 employees are not vaccinated, including about 40 who have been terminated, about 60 placed on a leave of absence who will need to be vaccinated before returning, about 100 who have requested religious exemptions, and about 10 who have received medical exemptions. A whopping 98 percent of staff at Maimonides have either been fully vaccinated or have received at least one dose.

Tammaro said that the religious exemptions remain under review, and the hospital is awaiting a court decision brought by unvaccinated health care workers challenging the mandate on the grounds that religious exemptions are not allowed.

Meanwhile, a total of 221 employees at SUNY Downstate are unvaccinated, 172 of whom are facing disciplinary action, a spokesperson said, but the numbers could change as employees come into compliance.

“These are staff that are no longer on schedule and currently suspended and will go through the termination process,” said Dawn S. Walker, the SUNY Downstate spokesperson. “However, these numbers are fluid and are likely to decrease as more employees become compliant with the mandate. We continue to work with unvaccinated staff members to encourage them to get the vaccine.”

Walker said that 3,761 Downstate employees have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Other hospitals either provided only network-wide numbers, percentage of staff who are vaccinated, or didn’t respond to inquiries.

New York-Presbyterian spokesperson Alexandra Langan said that she did not have the numbers for the network’s Brooklyn location, Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, but said that the system at-large has a 99 percent vaccination rate and that company-wide, fewer than 250 employees out of 48,000 chose not to comply and are no longer employed there.

“We will continue to provide exceptional care at all of our hospitals, without interruption,” Langan said. “We thank all our team members who have gotten vaccinated to help protect themselves and their families, our patients, our colleagues and communities from Covid-19.”

NYC Health & Hospitals, the city’s public hospital network which operates Coney Island Hospital, Kings County Hospital in Flatbush, and Woodhull Hospital in Bedford-Stuyvesant, as well as 10 neighborhood health centers branded under Gotham Health, also did not provide hard numbers. A spokesperson said that 92 percent of H+H employees are in compliance with the mandate, and unvaccinated employees have been placed on unpaid leave, but none have been terminated.

“We are thankful to our workforce for their commitment to supporting a safe health care environment in our facilities by getting their COVID-19 vaccine and complying with the State’s mandate,” spokesperson Stephanie Guzman said. “We are committed to offering high-quality, comprehensive health care to the more than 1.4 million New Yorkers who rely on our services. All of our hospitals and community health clinics are open for care without interruption.”

Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of H+H, said at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Tuesday press briefing that he had brought 500 nurses into the system to cover for about 500 employed nurses “who are not currently at work.”

Thousands of health care workers got vaccinated in the days leading up to the mandate’s going into force.

“A lot of employees, when push came to shove and it was really about to happen, and it was really about to happen — like so much of human life, people respond to deadlines — at the last minute, they’re getting vaccinated,” de Blasio said at the Tuesday press briefing.

A spokesperson for Mount Sinai, which operates Mount Sinai Brooklyn in Midwood, said that 99 percent of the workforce system-wide has been vaccinated. “We anticipate less than 1 percent leave us because of unwillingness to be vaccinated,” the spokesperson said. “We have not been operationally impacted by the small number of employees who have declined the vaccine.”

NYU Langone, which operates a Brooklyn campus in Sunset Park, has a 99 percent vaccination rate but no hard numbers; a spokesperson said they expect those numbers by the end of the week. The Brooklyn campus has 5,000 employees.

A representative for Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in East Flatbush said the hospital is not disclosing the number of terminated employees and declined to comment. Spokespersons for Brookdale University Hospital, Interfaith Medical Center, Brooklyn Hospital Center, and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center did not respond to requests for comment.