Brooklyn hospital employees overwhelmingly in compliance with COVID-19 vaccine

LaRay Brown, chief executive officer, One Brooklyn Health System, Inc.
Justin Persaud

Top executives at One Brooklyn Health System, Inc. (OBHS) and SUNY Downstate Medical Center and University Hospital of Brooklyn say that the overwhelming majority of employees are in compliance with the New York State mandate that they be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

LaRay Brown, chief executive officer of OBHS, and Dawn Skeete-Walker, vice president for communications and marketing at SUNY Downstate, told Caribbean Life in exclusive, separate interviews that the institutions continue to strictly follow State protocol.

OBHS is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt corporation licensed under Article 28 of the Public Health Law. OBHS is the NYS Department of Health approved co-operator of Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center, Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center.

In addition to the three hospitals, OBHS serves Central and Northeast Brooklyn, comprising 12 ambulatory care centers, two nursing homes, an assisted living and independent living facility, a transitional housing program, an urgent care center and a retail pharmacy.

As of Nov. 1, Brown said 94 percent of 7, 050 staffers at OBHS were vaccinated.

She said 362 staffers currently have medical and religious exceptions, and leave of absence. Of that number, 23 have medical exception, 191 religious exception, and 148 leave of absence.

Brown also said that 6,625 employees have had at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, as of Nov. 1: 488 CIR employees (Council of Interns and Residents – the union that represents physicians in training); 3, 553 employees in 1199 Union; 1,034 nurses; 1, 434 non-union employees; and 116 Security employees.

The chief executive officer said 63 non-vaccinated staffers have been separated from employment, as of Nov. 1, of which five are CIR, 31 from 1199 Union, 12 nurses, 14 non-union, and one security.

“We work with unions to make sure you are informed,” said Brown, referring to employees. “People had concerns. Our goal is to make sure staffs are safe. Our goal was not for anybody to lose their jobs.

“We have vaccination pods across campus,” she added. “We have vaccination pods that operate on weekends.”

Brown said when employees on Leave of Absence return to work, they “will have to be vaccinated and given two weeks” to do so.

“If they come back to work, they are expected to be vaccinated,” she stressed, stating that, if they refuse, the institution will have no choice but to let them go.

Brown said OBHS allowed employees with religious exceptions to remain on the job pending the outcome of court cases.

But she said employees with religious and medical exemptions must be tested once per week.

“The entire purpose is to ensure that people working are safe,” said Brown, adding that, “at the same time, for people in the general community, there’s a moral obligation for health care providers to be vaccinated.”

After the State issued the mandate for health care providers to be vaccinated, Brown said there has been “a significant uptake of staff who agreed to be vaccinated.

“So, clearly, the mandate works,” she said. “COVID-19 has been so politicized; and there’s so much misinformation out there, despite the science (in favor of vaccination). So, I’m heartened that so many of our staff agreed to be vaccinated.”

For employees yet to be vaccinated,” Brown said: “I hope they, in the spirit of being responsible health care professionals, take the vaccine.

“People have very strong feelings about the vaccines,” she added. “Our physicians have, encouragingly, been vaccinated.

“I’m optimistic that more and more people will be vaccinated,” Brown, however, continued. “We still have to wear masks.”

She said OBHS is still collecting data on vaccination but not on race, ethnicity or nationality.

Therefore, she said she was unable to reveal how many Caribbean nationals were vaccinated, exempted, on leave of absence, or refused to take the vaccine and were, consequently, terminated.

The chief executive offer, however, said that a “significant number” of employees are Caribbean nationals, and that OBHS serves the Caribbean community, among others, in Brooklyn.

“I want to underscore how much we value our staff and how much we want them to be safe,” she said. “And we want to continue to press the importance of being vaccinated.

“We want to work with every single employee to come back to work,” Brown added.

With more than 4,000 employees at SUNY Downstate Hospital, Skeete-Walker said, as of Nov. 3, there was a 96.62 percent compliance rate with the State mandate for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“To date, no one has been terminated,” she said, adding, however, that “non-compliant individuals are on Leaves of Absence without pay.”

She disclosed that, presently, there are 140 non-compliant employees.

But Skeete-Walker cautioned that the numbers are “fluid” and will, therefore, “change as more employees come into compliance and return to work.”

She said staffers, who did not meet the requirements of the vaccine mandate, work in a variety of roles and serve in different capacities.

The vice president also said that the institution did not ask the employees why they refused to take the vaccine.

In addition, she said the hospital does not maintain data about employees’ country of origin, for those who are not citizens, such as those from the Caribbean or have Caribbean background.

“Any such information submitted by an employee is voluntary,” Skeete-Walker said.

In an email statement to Caribbean Life, Dr. Wayne J. Riley, president, SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, said the institution “fully supports the State’s vaccination mandate measure and is prepared to enforce the requirement for our students and employees.

“We are in the business of health professions education and patient care,” he said. “As such, we cannot and will not risk the lives of those in our cherished community because of refusals to get vaccinated.

“The science is clear and irrefutable,” Dr. Riley emphasized. “COVID vaccines save lives and protect us all.”

More from Around NYC