EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A registered nurse claims her rights were violated when she lost her job after deciding not to follow an East Providence health care facility’s COVID-19 testing policy.
According to Tockwotton on the Waterfront President and CEO Kevin McKay, the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH) tested residents and staff members last month after a resident who was being transferred out of the facility tested positive for the virus.
No one else tested positive, and while many nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been devastated by COVID-19, McKay said Tockwotton’s only confirmed case involved that one asymptomatic resident who no longer lives there.
Christy Duquette was one of the Tockwotton registered nurses tested with a long swab inserted in one nostril by RIDOH personnel.
“That test was very uncomfortable,” Duquette said. “I said, ‘I think you hit my optic nerve,’ because my left eye was blood shot and tearing a good couple of hours after the test.”
Then last week, Tockwotton’s long-term care staff members were advised to get tested at the CVS drive-up rapid testing site in the Twin River casino parking lot in Lincoln.
Duquette offered to go through antibody testing, a procedure that looks for proteins in the blood that may indicate COVID-19 exposure.
But she told her superiors she would not get retested at Twin River, citing research that has questioned the accuracy of the rapid testing procedure.
“It’s not that I flat out refused to be tested,” Duquette said. “But I do not believe the tests involving people swabbing their own noses are accurate. And I had no symptoms and did not test positive in the first test.”
Shortly after declining to get retested, Duquette was told not to return to work.
While Duquette claims she was informed the retesting would take place every seven to ten days, a Tockwotton spokesperson said there are no plans to conduct regular tests of asymptomatic staff.
McKay, who did not release specifics about Duquette’s case, said the goal of the testing is to “identify possible asymptomatic carriers and to protect people living and working” at Tockwotton.
“We made it clear that while this was voluntary,” McKay said. “Anyone who declined to be tested should not return to work.”
According to McKay, staff “were paid for the opportunity to take the test,” but Duquette said she was told testing would be done on the staff members’ own time.
Duquette said she was told by one superior anyone who retested positive but remained asymptomatic would be given three days off, and then required to resume their respective schedules.
“That didn’t make any sense,” Duquette said. “They are looking for asymptomatic staff, but then tell them to come back to work after only three days?”
She was also concerned about the state’s contact tracing protocol that would kick in if she tested positive.
“What if they tracked down everyone I had come into contact with, but it was a false positive?” Duquette said. “Again, it doesn’t make sense. There is a fear factor and bad decisions are made when there’s fear.”
Duquette claims other nurses and health care staff at Tockwotton and other facilities are also concerned about losing their right to question the testing procedures.
“They’re afraid to stand up and again they don’t want to lose their jobs,” Duquette said. “Nurses who speak up get fired. It’s been this way for a long time.”