PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health is preparing to crack down on health care workers who refuse to get vaccinated by Gov. Dan McKee’s Oct. 1 deadline.
During his weekly media briefing, McKee outlined the state’s enforcement strategy which he said will not only hold health care workers accountable, but also prevent disruptions to patient care as facilities work toward full compliance.
“Health care workers have been the heroes of Rhode Island’s COVID-19 pandemic by consistently putting the health and safety of their patients first,” McKee said.
“The vast majority of health care workers have continued to do that by already getting vaccinated against COVID-19,” he continued. “The enforcement strategy for our COVID-19 vaccination requirement for healthcare workers provides clear structure and guidance to facilities that are working to get the remaining few who are not vaccinated yet, while ensuring that all Rhode Islanders still have access to high quality care in facilities throughout the state.”
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health, said through the state’s enforcement strategy, health care facilities will have 30 days to replace unvaccinated employees with fully vaccinated workers, but only if there is a risk to quality of care.
She said the enforcement strategy “is not intended to be an extension or exemption of the original vaccination requirement.”
Health care facilities will also be asked to develop corrective action plans to ensure their staff’s full compliance with the statewide vaccine mandate. Alexander-Scott said those should include a thorough explanation of the facility’s plan to ensure all remaining employees get vaccinated within the 30 days and whether it’s necessary for the quality of care to allow them to work in the meantime.
The plans will also include a list of temporary infection prevention measures that the facility will implement for unvaccinated staff who are critically necessary to the operation, as well as their procedure for ensuring all new hires are fully vaccinated.
More information regarding those plans, which are due Oct. 1, will be shared directly with the state’s health care facilities in the coming days.
“Similar to the approach that we take with other vaccinations that are required for health care workers, we are outlining and providing clear action steps to facilities to ensure full compliance by Oct. 1,” Alexander-Scott said. “Rhode Island’s effective enforcement strategy, requiring COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers, will limit exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable patients and will help ensure the stability of our health care system statewide.”
Right now, according to the R.I. Department of Health, about 87% of health care workers in the state are vaccinated, which is an increase of 10% since the beginning of September.
As part of the state’s ongoing vaccination efforts, McKee announced a new “Vaccinate the Ocean State” challenge.
“Mini-grants” will be made available to community- and faith-based organizations that actively promote the COVID-19 vaccine, he said.
“Community engagement is key to our COVID-19 response,” McKee added. “Community organizations throughout Rhode Island have done so much throughout this pandemic to support the people in their neighborhoods and communities. This mini-grant opportunity will give them the chance to sustain that vital work and help get as many Rhode Islanders vaccination against COVID-19 as possible.”
Forty-five grants, ranging from $2,000 to $4,975, will be distributed from a pool of $223,000. The deadline for nonprofits to apply is Sept. 30. Click here for more information »
McKee also noted Tuesday’s briefing that the state has yet to spend any of the $1.1 billion it received from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
Currently, McKee touted Rhode Island ranks fourth in the country and first in the region in terms of its economic recovery from the pandemic.
“While Rhode Island is leading economic reopening, we should not take our foot off the pedal,” McKee said. “If we invest soon and invest wisely, we will continue to lead rather than follow.”
That’s why he said time is now to put a “down payment” on the state’s economic comeback. That down payment would be made up of 10% of those federal dollars, which McKee hopes, in part, to put toward helping small businesses hire and train new employees.
In addition, the funding would also be utilized to address the state’s housing crisis by providing more affordable housing for struggling Rhode Islanders.
When it comes to the other 90%, McKee said he plans to put those toward more long-term investments such as infrastructure, public health, climate change and education, among others.
This funding, McKee said, will “propel Rhode Island into the next decade with strength.”
“I am excited for the future of the state of Rhode Island,” he said. “But conquering the challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities ahead will take all of us working together to ensure a more resilient, equitable and prosperous state for all.”