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Hochul says New York's health care workforce needs to grow by 20%

CANTON, NY (North Country Public Radio) — Governor Kathy Hochul said New York’s health care workforce was short-handed even before the pandemic, and now it’s even worse.

Speaking at a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, she said hospitals and other health care facilities were short-staffed by 32% before the pandemic descended in early 2020.

She stood with members of the National Guard at a hospital in the Bronx, saying the federal government has sent 225 National Guard and 110 ambulance units to help hospitals stretched thin by the omicron spike, particularly in more far-flung areas like the North Country.

"It is hard to get someone to another hospital, whether they’re in Watertown and they need to go to Syracuse, or anywhere," Hochul said. "This has really been a challenge, so we have been so reliant on them to give them the extra support we need."

Hochul repeated  her plan to invest $10 billion in the state health care system, including bonuses and pay hikes, free tuition, and stipends to recruit and retain more health care workers. She laid out a goal of increasing the health care workforce by 20%. The Democratic governor, meanwhile, was upbeat about the ebb of the winter surge of omicron cases. Since the peak on January 7 th, the number of new COVID-19 cases has plummeted by more than 90%, from around 90,000 per day to around 7,000 Monday. Hospitalizations are down statewide 43%. The North Country is the only region in the state that has a small increase. "And even the North Country that looks like a little spike, that is literally the difference between 25 people and 21 people, so these are minor numbers," Hochul said. "We’ll be able to manage that as well." Hochul reiterated that people should get vaccinated if they haven’t already, and boosted to protect themselves and others from serious illness. She also said more parents need to get their children the shot. Vaccine manufacturers are expected to seek approval for a COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 5 in the coming days. But across the state, still just about a third of children 5-11 years old are currently vaccinated.