PROVIDENCE — Hospitals and other health care facilities in Rhode Island have started to send out letters alerting health care workers who are still not vaccinated against COVID-19 that they will be placed on unpaid administrative leave for not complying with the state mandate.
If they remain unvaccinated once the administrative leave ends, their jobs will be terminated.
In mid-August, Governor Dan McKee and the state health department announced that all health care workers in Rhode Island would have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1 or risk losing their jobs, and possibly their professional licenses.
Many hospital owners announced this week that any worker who did not comply with the mandate would no longer be working for their facilities. This includes the state’s two largest health care systems, Lifespan Corp. and Care New England, which together have more than 24,000 employees.
Dr. James E. Fanale, the president and CEO of Care New England, said in a statement Friday that as of that morning, the system’s workforce was “100 percent compliant” with the state’s vaccine mandate. He said the system held numerous vaccination clinics, town halls, educational seminars, and meetings to provide “ample opportunity” to the workforce to receive a vaccination.
“As healthcare workers it is our responsibility to provide an environment that is safe for all patients seeking treatment at our hospitals, as well as our staff,” said Fanale. “We understand that receiving a vaccination is a personal choice, which we respect. Healthcare workers who were not vaccinated before today are not being allowed to work at any Care New England hospital, in order to preserve our commitment to world class care for our patients, and to protect staff.”
As of Thursday, about 5 percent of Care New England’s workforce was still unvaccinated. Fanale said there were contingency plans in place to accommodate any temporary staffing shortages.
At Lifespan, spokeswoman Kathleen Hart told the Globe that 98 percent of its workforce is now vaccinated and fewer than 400 employees are unvaccinated.
“But we are continuing to have vaccine clinics today and are prepared to welcome back them back if they comply with the vaccine requirement,” she said.
Those who refused to get vaccinated by the deadline received letters and alerts from their employers on Friday, saying that they would be placed on unpaid administrative leave before being terminated.
Paul Rianna Jr., a certified nursing assistant at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital, received a letter from the human resources department at CharterCARE Health Partners on Thursday that said if he did not communicate with their human resources office before the end of the administrative leave period on Oct. 15, his employment with CharterCARE Health would be terminated effective Oct. 16. He announced this week that he’s running for governor as an independent to advocate for “medical freedom.”
Stephanie Merola, a pharmacy technician with Lifespan who told the Globe she “worked in the basement” with “no patient contact” said she did not get vaccinated and was locked out of her work e-mail Friday.
Anystasia Holmes, a nurse at Kent Hospital in Warwick, requested a religious exemption. Her request was denied, and she said she received a call telling her she would be suspended beginning Friday morning. She was told that she would be on leave without pay and be terminated on Oct. 16.
Holmes also said she worked at CVS where she administered the COVID-19 vaccine as a contingent worker. But she received an e-mail from the company saying they were not willing to accept unvaccinated workers unless they had a medical exemption. She said she also worked per diem for an ambulance company, where she will no longer be allowed to work because of her vaccination status.
“I am being discriminated against by my right to choose,” she said. “I’m hoping they change their mind. I worked really hard. I love being a nurse. You either follow the governor’s rules or you get blocked out from society.”
Lanni Bessette Carello received an e-mail Thursday saying she would be placed on “unprotected” leave from her job as a MRI tech at Rhode Island Medical Imaging, effective Friday.
“The next e-mail was from Indeed, that my employer was hiring,” she said.
The two health care facilities run by the state are allowing some critical workers who are unvaccinated to continue to work for up to 30 days beyond Friday’s deadline, in order to maintain levels of care.
Eleanor Slater Hospital, which has campuses in Burrillville and Cranston, will allow some staff to work in that time frame if they are deemed “essential.”
Rhode Island Veterans Home, which is a skilled-nursing facility, had 16 unvaccinated health care employees as of Thursday and will be on a corrective action plan regarding the vaccine mandate.
It’s unclear if any other health care employers will be making the same exemption.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman at the state health department, told the Globe Friday that facilities have until the end of the day to report which will use unvaccinated workers for the grace period.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.