PROVIDENCE — Eleanor Slater Hospital will continue to allow unvaccinated direct care workers to work after this weekend, having failed to replace them a month after the state’s own COVID-19 vaccine mandate went into effect.
The state-run hospital has facilities in Cranston and Burrillville. Its nearly 200 patients have a variety of psychiatric and medical conditions.
It’s run by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which acknowledged late Friday that it was still trying to get into compliance with the Oct. 1 deadline for workers at licensed health care facilities to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
As of Friday, 32 direct-care workers remained unvaccinated, and 11 non-direct care workers were unvaccinated. The 11 non-direct care workers would be placed on unpaid leave for up to 75 days beginning Sunday if they’re state workers and otherwise barred from the building. But the hospital will continue to “temporarily” use some unvaccinated direct-care workers to maintain staffing levels and ensure the quality of care, spokesman Randal Edgar said in an email.
“This will be done only as a last resort while we continue to pursue every avenue available to recruit for and hire needed positions, many of which require expertise and experience that are unique to this type of setting,” Edgar said.
Edgar said that the hospital will be “nearly 95 percent compliant” with the regulation. BHDDH Director Richard Charest notified the state Department of Health that it would not be in full compliance with the health care worker regulation as of Sunday.
“The leadership of BHDDH will fully cooperate with the RIDOH enforcement team and will continue its good faith efforts to work as quickly as possible to become 100 percent compliant,” Edgar said. “Those efforts will include continuing to work with our contracted staffing agency to bring on temporary workers, hiring new permanent staff through traditional channels, working with our partner agencies to seek temporary resources and ensuring that any employee who has decided to receive the vaccine has access to one.”
The state Department of Health’s regulation said health care providers and workers at state-licensed health care facilities — public and private — needed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 1. The state has a medical exemption, but not a religious one.
As originally announced, the mandate said unvaccinated workers would not be allowed in the building as of Oct. 1.
But about a week and a half before it went into effect, the state said unvaccinated health care workers could continue to work if their absence would present risks to the quality of patient care. Facilities would have 30 days to persuade holdouts to get vaccinated or replace them with vaccinated workers.
That 30 days was taken by some as effectively a new deadline, but that’s not how it turned out, even in the state’s own hospital.
Instead, the state’s hospital will effectively operate out of compliance with the state’s vaccine mandate. Edgar did not say how many of the 32 unvaccinated direct-care workers would continue to report to work.
The Department of Health said in early October that 92 facilities did not meet the deadline to get all their workers vaccinated. They all had to file corrective action plans. Earlier this week, the Department of Health asked facilities that had filed corrective action plans to report their progress. The deadline to respond was on Friday, so it’s unclear how many facilities will be in the same position as Eleanor Slater Hospital after this weekend.
According to Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken, facilities that aren’t in compliance will follow a “normal regulatory process.”
“It entails a notification of deficiencies, and could involve a Compliance Order and eventually, potentially, action on the facility’s license,” Wendelken said in an email.
The other state-run health care facility, the Veterans Home in Bristol, said it would be in full compliance with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Oct. 31.
Meghan Connelly, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services, said one employee is currently partially vaccinated, two have approved medical exemptions, and eight are unvaccinated without medical exemptions. Those eight will be placed on leave without pay, meaning the nursing home for aging veterans won’t have any unvaccinated workers who don’t have approved medical exemptions.