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Most R.I. hospitals are about to revisit their COVID-19 vaccine policies for employees

While most R.I. hospitals have “encouraged” staff members to get vaccinated, only Westerly Hospital is requiring COVID-19 vaccine for workers

Molly Hanlon Taub, left, injects fellow nurse director and her mother-in-law, Marybeth Taub, with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as Women & Infants Hospital begins vaccinating its workers Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Providence.David Goldman/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — Some of Rhode Island’s largest hospitals are revisiting their COVID-19 vaccine policies for employees.

Each of Rhode Island’s hospitals have largely told staff members — including frontline health care workers — that they were not required, but “encouraged” to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, that might change in light of recent recommendations by national groups for health care workers to be required to get fully vaccinated in order to continue working.

On Monday, a group of nearly 60 major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and American Nurses Association, called for mandatory vaccination of health care workers due to the highly contagious Delta variant.


In a joint statement, the organizations said vaccine mandates are the “logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first.”

“We stand with the growing number of experts and institutions that support the requirement for universal vaccination of health workers,” read the statement. Also on Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it would require its frontline health care workers to get vaccinated in the next two months.

Kathleen Hart, a spokeswoman for Lifespan Corporation, which is the largest health care system in Rhode Island, said Monday afternoon that executives are “reviewing its current policy and expects to issue further guidance on vaccinations in the next few weeks.”

“The health and safety of our patients, visitors, employees, and families is of utmost priority, and we share the growing concern about the recent uptick in COVID-19 infections and spread of the Delta variant,” wrote Hart in an email to the Globe.

At Care New England, the state’s second largest health care system, is already requiring vaccine for volunteers, students, and all new hires, but are “actively promoting” vaccines for staff and spread of COVID-19 in the community.


However, Raina Smith, a Care New England spokeswoman, said Monday night the system’s policy “may change shortly.”

South County Health, which operates the only independently-owned hospital in Rhode Island, said last week that it has not yet mandated the vaccine for workers.

“We continue to follow the COVID prevention guidelines for healthcare workers recommended by the Rhode Island Department of Health and would encourage people to get the COVID vaccine, but to date there has not been any recommendation to require vaccination,” said Eric Dickervitz, the system’s spokesman, in an email.

Otis Brown, the spokesman for CharterCARE, which owns Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence and Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence, did not immediately respond to requests from the Globe.

Yale New Haven Health System, which is based in Connecticut but owns Westerly Hospital, previously announced earlier this summer that it would require all employees to be vaccinated by the end of September. This policy mirrors what other major hospital owners are implementing for their COVID-19 vaccine policies, including Southcoast Health in southeastern Massachusetts and Mass General Brigham in Boston.

Health care workers were among the first in Rhode Island to become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.