RI, Mass. hospital groups will require staff to get COVID-19 vaccine

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Many health care facilities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts will soon be mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees.

Rhode Island’s two biggest hospital groups, Lifespan and Care New England, announced the new requirements Tuesday, both citing the recent surge in cases and spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

Here’s a look at the plans for local hospital groups:

Rhode Island

Lifespan

Lifespan, which owns Rhode Island, Miriam, Newport and Bradley hospitals, said the companywide mandate will be enforced beginning Sept. 1 and applies to all employees, regardless of their role. The goal is to have all employees show proof of immunization within 60 days.

According to spokesperson Kathleen Hart, the decision was made “only after extensive and thoughtful review, and with our employees and patients’ safety as our top priority.”

“The vaccines are safe and extremely effective in combatting COVID-19,” Hart added. “It is our responsibility as health care professionals to take the science seriously and act to safeguard the health of our community.”

Care New England

Care New England, which owns Women & Infants, Kent and Butler hospitals, said it will also be moving toward a mandatory vaccination program for all staff members, though a spokesperson clarified that since July 1, all students, volunteers and new hires have been required to get immunized.

The next step, the spokesperson said, is to require all managers to begin the vaccination process prior to Labor Day.

“It is our responsibility to keep our patients and our staff safe,” Care New England President and CEO James Fanale said in a statement. “This program will be based on the best evidence that we have to date about preventing transmission of COVID-19.”

Care New England expects to release more details about the program within the next week.

VA Providence Healthcare System

The Department of Veterans Affairs was the first major federal agency to announce a requirement for health care workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough said certain medical personnel including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants and others who work in departmental facilities or provide direct care to veterans have eight weeks to get vaccinated as of July 26.

“It’s the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the delta variant spreads across the country,” McDonough said in a statement. “Whenever a veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from COVID-19.”

Yale New Haven Health System

The Yale New Haven Health System, which operates Westerly Hospital and several facilities in neighboring Connecticut, is requiring all employees to get vaccinated, according to spokesperson Fiona Phelan.

“The vast majority of patients being admitted to hospitals now with COVID are unvaccinated,” Phelan said. “The vaccine provides significant protection against serious illness which can also lead to chronic conditions.”

The group will provide appropriate health and religious exemptions, Phelan added, and they are in the process of discussing expectations for staff covered by collective bargaining agreements.


Massachusetts

Southcoast Health

Southcoast Health, which owns St. Luke’s, Charlton Memorial and Tobey hospitals as well as Southcoast Behavioral Health, announced it will be requiring all staff to get vaccinated, but only once the FDA grants full approval to at least one of the vaccines.

A “vast majority” of the Southcoast Health workforce has already been vaccinated, according to Chief of Medicine Dr. Dani Hackner.

“Everyone understands that health care providers and staff have a different responsibility that the general public,” he said. “In the case of hospitals, we have a lot of folks that are vulnerable, they are called immuno-suppressed. And so we as health care providers and staff have a higher responsibility to make sure that we are part of the solution and protect our patients and part of that is getting ourselves vaccinated.”

Mass General Brigham

The state’s largest health care system announced mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all staff in late June.

A deadline will be determined once the FDA grants full approval of one of the three vaccines.

At the time, Mass General Brigham said more than 85% of its employees had already been vaccinated.

“The evidence of COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness is overwhelming,” President and CEO Anne Klibanski, MD, said in a statement. “Getting vaccinated is the single most important and responsible step each of us can take to put an end to this devastating pandemic and protect patients, families, and each other.”

Baystate Health

Baystate Health, which operates hospitals in Springfield, Palmer, Westfield and Greenfield, will require each of its roughly 12,000 employees to get vaccinated beginning Oct. 1.

About 75% of those employees are already fully vaccinated, according to President and CEO Mark Keroack.

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