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RI HEALTH

R.I.’s Eleanor Slater Hospital, Landmark Medical Center receive violation notices due to unvaccinated staff

The state has sent notices saying the two hospitals are out of compliance with state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers

The Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston, RI.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — The state’s deadline to get every health care worker in the state vaccinated passed nearly a week ago, but two Rhode Island hospitals are still not in compliance with the mandate.

The Globe has confirmed that state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital and Prime Healthcare’s Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket have received Notices of Violation from the state health department for being out of compliance with the health care worker vaccination requirement for COVID-19.

Joseph Wendelken, the state health department spokesman, told the Globe that the state conducted an inspection of the facilities to formally document noncompliance. In addition to these facilities, the health department is in the process of doing regulatory follow-ups with other facilities that have not yet attested to the state that they are in full compliance.

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The leadership of Eleanor Slater Hospital had previously acknowledged that the state-run hospital wouldn’t be in compliance with the state’s own vaccine mandate a month after it went into effect, setting up regulatory action by one part of the state government against another. Eleanor Slater is run by the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

“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,” spokesman Randal Edgar said in late October.

The hospital has campuses in Burrillville and Cranston. Its nearly 200 patients have a range of complex medical and psychiatric needs, ranging from patients ordered by criminal courts for treatment to ventilator patients to people who are dealing with debilitating injuries from car crashes or drug overdoses. Internal critics, some of whom have been pushed out, have said the hospital operates more like a nursing home than a hospital, with some patients staying for decades, and the institution has been mired in controversy for a year over plans to dramatically remake the type of care it provides.

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The system recently had to shut down visitation after two staff members, one of whom sources said was unvaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19.

When officials from the Department of Health inspected the facility earlier this week, they learned 10 unvaccinated people had worked on Monday: an environmental service worker at the Zambarano unit and a registered nurse, four certified nursing assistants, a mental health worker, and three institution attendant professionals at the Cranston unit.

Edgar said his department’s leadership attested to the Department of Health a week ago that Eleanor Slater Hospital had 34 unvaccinated direct-care workers, two of whom had medical exemptions. Two have gotten vaccinated since then, leaving 32 unvaccinated direct care workers, Edgar said Friday. Nineteen of those were on long-term sick leave, worker’s comp or family leave, Edgar said.

That means there are 13 unvaccinated essential staff working in the hospital, three of whom are partially vaccinated, Edgar said.

Eleanor Slater Hospital had received no replacement employees as of Friday morning, Edgar said, citing a national staffing shortage. Edgar said the hospital was continuing to work with a staffing firm to bring replacement workers on board as quickly as possible.

Also Friday, Edgar said two staffers remain in quarantine and one patient was COVID positive. The COVID-positive patient case emerged earlier in the day Friday.

At Landmark Medical Center, which told the Globe in late September that 95 percent of its workforce was fully vaccinated, also received a compliance order. In their notice, the health department stated that Landmark responded to the state on Oct. 29 and said that it would “not achieve full compliance” with the vaccine regulations by Oct. 31.

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On Nov. 1, the state health department conducted an unannounced inspection of Landmark, where they found 21 health care workers (17 of which were scheduled to work that day) unvaccinated and did not receive a medical exemption.

“The responded had decided to accommodate health care workers who object to being vaccinated on religious grounds, permitting such health care workers to enter [Landmark’s] premises,” read the notice by the state health department. Landmark’s actions are despite the state not allowing religious exemptions for the vaccine.

Carolyn Kyle, a spokeswoman for Landmark, did not respond to the Globe’s requests for comment.

Of the 405 licensed facilities in the state, 370 of them reported being in full compliance, which is 91 percent of facilities. But nine facilities that reported they needed an extension to the mandate at the start of October and filed Corrective Action Plans, did not follow-up with status reports by last Friday.

There are also 24 facilities have not reported any data to date, said Wendelken.

None of these facilities (in the groups of nine and 24) are hospitals, but were typically laboratories, assisted living facilities, and ambulatory care centers.

Wendelken said that the state is doing a random audit to assess health care worker vaccination rates, which will cover all provider types regardless of the compliance status of their facility. It will also cover health care providers who do not work in licensed health care facilities.

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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz. Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.