RI health care vaccine mandate now in effect; hospitals prepared for potential impacts on care

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s vaccine mandate for health care employees at state-licensed facilities went into effect Friday morning.

The impacts of employees not complying, and subsequently getting terminated, may have ripple effects inside hospitals.

“We are just asking our community, particularly around our emergency department services for individuals who have early signs of not feeling well, to reach out to their primary care providers, before their condition escalates to need emergency level service,” Dr. Cathy Duquette, Lifespan executive vice president of quality and safety said.

In a statement Friday, Care New England said their health care workforce is 100% compliant with the vaccine mandate.

President and CEO of Care New England James Fanale said in anticipation of the vaccine deadline, they held numerous vaccination clinics, educational seminars, town halls, and other meetings to provide ample opportunity for their workers to get vaccinated, as well as answer any questions anyone may have had.

“As healthcare workers, it is our responsibility to provide an environment that is safe for all patients seeking treatment at our hospitals, as well as our staff,” Fanale said. “We understand that receiving a vaccination is a personal choice, which we respect. Healthcare workers who were not vaccinated [before Friday] are not allowed to work at any Care New England hospital, in order to preserve our commitment to world-class care for our patients, and to protect staff.”

Fanale said contingency plans are currently in place to accommodate any temporary staffing shortages.

Lifespan told 12 News that 97% of its workers are vaccinated, and Care New England said earlier this week at least 95% of its workers are immunized.

Attempts to block the vaccine mandate failed in separate court proceedings this week, filed by a group of firefighters unions who claimed the mandate was unconstitutional, then by a group of health care workers who argued there was no religious exemption.

Four Women & Infants employees that spoke to 12 News, for example, said they won’t get the vaccine for religious reasons, and mask-wearing and twice-weekly COVID testing should be sufficient.

The four women are standing their ground when it comes to getting vaccinated, all agreeing that nothing would change their minds, even keeping their jobs.

“I worked through this pandemic, keeping myself, my family, and my patients safe, and I was blessed with my immune system given by God, and I do not want to alter that at all,” Registered Nurse Desiree Desvergnes said. “If I made it through this far, I will continue to take that risk.”

They’re not the only health care workers frustrated with the mandate. Dozens of unvaccinated health care professionals flocked to the State House Friday afternoon to protest the requirement.

“It’s definitely unfair to mandate one group of people, who have been working their butts off for 20 months taking care of the elderly and the sick in the hospital setting, to get the shot,” CNA Paul Rianna.

Rianna, who organized the rally, believes the mandate is discriminatory.

“I feel like it should be my body, my choice, but it’s also against my religious beliefs,” he said.

When asked which religion he follows, Rianna said he wants to keep that personal. Now without a job, he’s worried he won’t be able to make ends meet.

“If you’re vaccinated and it protects you, you shouldn’t worry about who’s unvaccinated,” he said.

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