PROVIDENCE — State representatives on Tuesday called for Governor Daniel J. McKee to back off a mandate that says health care workers at state-licensed facilities must get COVID-19 vaccines by Oct. 1 or they won’t be allowed to report to work.
The 33 legislators are asking McKee to direct the state Department of Health to “develop appropriate guidelines for those individuals to retain their employment while maintaining the public health.”
If no action is taken, the legislators want House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi to reconvene the House and work with the Senate “to address this extreme and unjust mandate, and, moreover, to set parameters for any future state, municipal, and private sector mandates concerning the commerce of daily life in the era of COVID-19.”
The first signatory is Representative Arthur J. Corvese, a conservative North Providence Democrat, and the letter is signed by House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi, a Block Island Republican, and other Republicans. It is also signed by Deputy House Speaker Charlene M. Lima, a Cranston Democrat, House Judiciary Chairman Robert E. Craven, a North Kingstown Democrat, and House Labor Committee Chairwoman Anastasia P. Williams, a Providence Democrat.
The letter begins by saying that health care professionals have served as “society’s first line of defense” throughout the pandemic, with nurses, doctors, certified nursing assistants, police, fire, and emergency personnel called “heroes” and “saviors.”
“Undaunted and unvaccinated, these individuals performed their daily duties at great personal risk to keep the rest of us healthy and the rest of us safe,” the letter states.
But now, some of those front-line workers are facing the loss of employment due to state executive orders mandating COVID- 19 vaccinations before Oct. 1, the legislators said.
“While we strongly urge all adults to get vaccinated, we also believe none of our ‘heroes’ should be in the unemployment line should they make the personal decision to decline vaccination,” they wrote.
McKee’s administration had originally said that until Oct. 1, health care workers who weren’t vaccinated would have to submit to twice-weekly testing and continue to wear a mask. But the governor largely avoided answering the question when asked what would happen if a health care worker at a state-licensed facility is not vaccinated after Oct. 1.
On Aug. 18, the Department of Health issued regulations saying those who don’t get the vaccine won’t be allowed to report to work.
The regulations affect both private and public facilities licensed by the Department of Health, including hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and even clinical laboratories.
Even health care providers outside of state-licensed facilities must be vaccinated. That includes anyone licensed by the Department of Health to provide health care services, including podiatrists, physical therapists, emergency medical service providers or other types of physicians. And the definition of health care worker at a licensed facility sweeps in people with dietary, housekeeping, billing, and other roles that are not directly involved in patient care but might be exposed to “infectious agents.”
Failing to comply could mean administrative action against the facility, or action against a provider’s license. Those with medical exemptions must continue to comply with the masking and testing requirements.