‘We went from heroes to zeroes’: Unvaccinated health care workers outraged by vaccine deadline

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Come Friday, the jobs of health care workers who are not yet vaccinated may be in jeopardy.

But despite Gov. Dan McKee’s Oct. 1 deadline, a number of Rhode Island health care workers still refuse to get the shot, including phlebotomist Cheryl Benjamin.

“We went from heroes to zeroes because we won’t comply,” Benjamin said, not only of herself, but other health care workers who are choosing not to get vaccinated.

Registered Nurse Desiree Desvergnes works with Benjamin at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence. She also refuses to get immunized.

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

Benjamin and Desvergnes tell 12 News they both wear face masks while on the job and get tested for the virus twice weekly, which they believe should be sufficient.

Both are seeking religious exemptions to the mandate, along with their colleagues, mammographer Monica Brown and Registered Nurse Anne Rich.

“It goes against all of my religious beliefs to the core of my existence,” Brown explained.

Rhode Island is one of two states, the other being Maine, that does not allow for religious exemptions to their vaccine mandate.

The state’s refusal to allow for religious exemption prompted several health care workers to request a temporary injunction against the mandate, arguing that it violates their constitutional rights. The request was ultimately shot down by a judge Thursday.

All four women tell 12 News they love their jobs but are willing to walk away if their rights are violated.

“I have not infected one patient that I know of,” Rich said, adding that she has already contracted and recovered from COVID-19. “Who knows what [the vaccine] is going to do [to our bodies] years from now. I have my own God-given antibodies against this virus.”

Woman & Infants Hospital is owned by Care New England. President and CEO Dr. James Fanale warned employees Wednesday that those who refuse to get vaccinated “will not be allowed to work.”

“Our healthcare system has contingency plans in place should any healthcare worker choose not to work after the deadline,” Fanale said, adding that 95% of Care New England’s workforce is immunized.

As a single mother, Desvergnes is concerned with how she is going to care for her children if she’s forced to walk away from her job.

“I have no family support financially,” she said. “I don’t know what I will do … how am I going to provide for my family?”

When asked whether not being able to support her two children would change her mind on getting vaccinated, Desvergnes said no.

While Rich admitted she had planned on retiring this year anyway, she’s frustrated for her colleagues who could soon be without a job.

“We would never force a vaccine or any procedure on a patient if they said no,” Rich said. “We are saying no, and they are going to make us lose our jobs.”

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