RI health care groups fear the worst as McKee stands by vaccine mandate

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Health care workers in Rhode Island now have one month to get vaccinated, per Gov. Dan McKee’s recently issued mandate.

But as the Oct. 1 deadline inches closer, health care organizations are concerned that the requirement will lead to a flurry of resignations.

The Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care issued a statement Tuesday calling upon the R.I. Department of Health to exempt home health care workers from the mandate.

“Unlike facility-based health care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes, home care providers can’t control their patients’ and clients’ care delivery environment,” said Nicholas Oliver, the group’s executive director. “Home care patients and clients have the right to allow unvaccinated persons to live and visit their homes.”

“These home environments offer greater risk of COVID-19 breakthrough variant exposure than health care workers that have been properly masking and wearing personal protective equipment for the past 18 months,” he continued.

Oliver said current projections indicate more than 1,000 home care patients will be without continuity of care after Sept. 30 due to the vaccine mandate.

Michael Bigney, president of the Partnership for Home Care’s board of directors, said while industry leaders are supportive of everyone getting vaccinated against COVID-19, they think the choice to do so should remain in the hands of their employees.

“We are losing excellent direct care staff that have been on the frontline throughout this pandemic,” Bigney said. “I hope that every displaced patient and client calls Governor McKee to tell him that this mandate is wrong.”

John Gage, president of the R.I. Health Care Association, agrees that McKee needs to offer solutions. He said his organization represents 80% of the state’s nursing homes, and the mandate impacts more than 400 unvaccinated employees who are under his umbrella.

“We have been strongly pro-vaccine, and we remain so, but I do think the governor may have to re-look at the deadline and potentially look at some targets,” Gage said. “Somebody has got to give. We are already in unprecedented times.”

McKee believes more people will choose to get vaccinated due to the full federal approval of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. During his weekly media briefing Tuesday, the Democratic governor said he does not plan on changing his stance when it comes to the health care worker vaccine mandate.

“They know that the safer they are, the safer the people they are serving are,” McKee said. “At this point, we are not moving off of that.”

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