McKee: We’re not going to turn our back on unvaccinated health care workers

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For the first time since Rhode Island’s vaccine mandate for health care workers went into effect, Gov. Dan McKee and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos held a formal press conference Tuesday afternoon.

The mandate called for all employees of state-licensed health care facilities to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1 or risk losing their jobs.

While the vast majority of these workers have complied, according to McKee, there are still some facilities working to get to 100% compliance, including the R.I. Veterans Home and Eleanor Slater Hospital.

As for those not yet vaccinated, McKee suggested the state may have temporary placement opportunities outside of health care so they can continue to work and support their families.

“They’re our neighbors. As I said, we’re not going to turn our back on the neighbors. But we’re also going to make sure that we set policy that keeps the overwhelming majority of the people safe in the state of Rhode Island,” McKee said.

Watch: McKee’s remarks (story continues below)

“We know health care is an area where there’s been a great deal of risk, and we’re going to do everything we can to minimize that risk,” he continued.

Health care workers who choose not to get vaccinated should reach out to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training.

Watch: Remarks from Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos (story continues below)

The vaccine mandate also applies to emergency medical technicians (EMTs) at fire departments. But as Target 12 found out, there were still pockets of unvaccinated employees on the job as of Monday.

For example, a dozen Providence firefighters remained unvaccinated as of Monday, according to Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré, who is the acting fire chief.

Paré told Target 12 those workers are still on the job since the R.I. Department of Health has not taken action against their EMT licenses. He said the unvaccinated firefighters, while continuing to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, are doing their usual assignments, which includes treating patients.

The president of the R.I. State Association of Firefighters said about 97% of its roughly 1,500 members are vaccinated.

“Thankfully, the firefighter leadership has really done a fantastic job on the local level to get people vaccinated, so we need to acknowledge that,” McKee said during the briefing.

The governor said he’s encouraged cities and towns to take the Health Department’s 30-day strategy to get to full compliance.

Watch: Q&A portion of briefing (story continues below)

Ahead of the Red Sox–Yankees wild card game Tuesday night, McKee took to Twitter to ask New York Gov. Kathy Hochul if she’d make a “friendly wager” on the game, betting a Rhode Island care package of Del’s Lemonade, local beers from Pawtucket-based brewer, The Guild, plus a cake from Gregg’s.

Hochul later accepted the deal, offering up some sweet treats.

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