NEWARK — By 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, every worker at New Jersey’s hospitals, nursing homes, and all other health care facilities in the state will be required to have gotten a COVID booster shot, or lose their jobs.
It’s a situation that could result in patient care being compromised — possibly severely — due to facilities being short-staffed. However, the head of the state’s largest hospital is convinced that the state will allow a grace period, in order to avoid the worst possible scenario.
New Jersey has nearly 12,000 workers spread across its 113 hospitals, and other health care facilities. The overwhelming majority of them have gotten COVID vaccinations. However, it’s well known that the percentage who’ve also gotten a booster shot is not as high.
Travis Dennis, a laundry worker at University Hospital, said that he’d gotten his booster. Nonetheless, he said, he resented that there is a mandate requiring it.
“I just don’t like it,” he said. “I’d rather have a choice in the matter. This gives you no choice.”
Wesley Albany, a patient at the hospital, said that he couldn’t see why health care workers don’t comply.
“If I’ve got to do it,” he said, “why don’t they have to do it? And they’re right here,” he added, gesturing toward the hospital.
The New Jersey Hospital Association, which represents health care facilities and their employees, said that it supports COVID boosters as an addition to the vaccinations that most of its members have already gotten.
“In New Jersey, well over 90 percent of our entire staff is vaccinated,” said Cathy Bennett, the CEO of NJHA. At some of its member facilities, she added, “there’s some as high as 99 percent” vaccinated.
Bennett said some workers became reluctant when they realized that it’s possible for a person to still contract COVID even after they’ve gotten a booster. That reluctance has continued despite the fact that a booster drastically reduces the rate of COVID transmission, as well as the severity of COVID cases.
She said that her organization is seeking a 90-day extension of the deadline, in order to help educate workers about the advantages of getting a booster.
“[It’s] extra time to bring our staff along,” she said, “to give them time to understand the booster and what it means for their health.”
She added that New York State has given a 90-day extension on its booster mandate for health care workers.
That may not be what Gov. Phil Murphy ultimately decides to do, with so few hours remaining before the deadline.
Still, said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, CEO of University Hospital, there is a history of the state allowing some extra time for facilities to comply.
“There’s actually a process that you go through, starting with a warning,” Elnahal said in an interview. “And the last time we did the primary vaccination mandate, a lot of people got the vaccine after the deadline, and in the warning phase.”
Anticipating at least a short grace period, Elnahal said, “So I do anticipate that a lot of people will be vaccinated in the next couple of weeks.”
For its part, the governor’s office issued a statement on the situation pointed out that more than 90 percent of the state’s health care workers are fully vaccinated.
“The Governor is confident that the booster rate will continue to increase accordingly, especially with the commitment from employers to increase booster rates among workers,” a spokesperson said. “The Administration is exploring ways to continue to work with employers to provide education and increase access to workers about the importance of boosters.”
Gov. Murphy’s executive order requiring boosters for health care workers allows for individual employers to determine courses of action to take if employees aren’t boosted by March 1.