ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The worst of the pandemic is now behind us, but the staffing shortages it caused still slow down the state healthcare system.

“We worry that, at some point staffing shortages can represent a public health crisis in and of itself,” says Dr. Steven Hanks, the president and CEO for St. Peter’s Health Partners.

He estimates the hospital system lost around 500 nurses and staff following the hospital and long-term care facility vaccine mandate. Former Governor Andrew Cuomo first announced the employee vaccination policy in August 2021, citing healthcare workers’ increased exposure to COVID-19 and its variants.

However, now that the federal public health emergency has been lifted, Dr. Hanks says he believe hospitals should be allowed to rehire unvaccinated staff and there has been interest.

“We’ve had inquiries from staff who said, hey you know we’ve heard the public health emergency is ending, can we come back to work for you?” Hanks explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

In the meantime, he says while staffing remains low, hospitals still aren’t back to full capacity.

“We have beds off-line, we have ORs off-line, we’ve had to diminish services, we’ve had to limit hours. In some ways, we’re not any different from restaurants that have had to cut back on the number of tables and the number of days they operate,” Dr. Hanks says.

The NYS Department of Health’s acting commissioner, Dr. James McDonald, says there’s no telling yet which way the state may go, but they’re open to discussion.

“I’m willing to take a fresh, holistic view at that regulation. Look at where we are now, definitely recognizing where we’ve been, and where are we now and what makes the best sense for the health and wellness of all New Yorkers,” Dr. McDonald says.

A further statement by a DOH representative reads: