RI will try to reassign unvaccinated health state workers

Associated Press/Olivia DaRocha

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee said Friday that the administration would try to find new assignments for health care workers employed by the state who are refusing a coronavirus vaccination.

The state’s health care worker vaccine mandate took effect Friday, the day after a federal judge tossed a constitutional challenge to the requirement filed by four people who work in the health care field. Workers who don’t comply are at risk of losing their state licenses and jobs.

McKee said during an appearance on WPRO radio that there are a “small amount” of holdouts, but he doesn’t want to put people out of work.

“We might be able to put them in another department,” he said. “We don’t want people to be without pay or without health care coverage and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

He said he would also encourage hospitals and other health care organizations to take the same approach.

He stood by the mandate.

“We’ve made a policy that we feel as though is in the best interest of the safety of the people in the state of Rhode Island,” he told the station.

The president of Care New England, the state’s second largest hospital group, said Friday that “a nominal percentage” of its workforce chose not to be vaccinated and the organization has plans in place to accommodate any temporary staffing shortages.

“We understand that receiving a vaccination is a personal choice, which we respect,” President and CEO Dr. James Fanale said in a statement. “Health care 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.”

Health care workers protested outside of the Rhode Island State House Friday afternoon, marching into downtown and back. Many health care workers gave speeches about the impact of the mandate, and some had their children hold signs advocating for the rights of their parents.

“They can do and say whatever they want to scare us,” one protestor said. “We’re not scared. We’re gonna fight this for our freedom, our rights and our religious freedoms.”

Care New England, which operates Women and Infants, Butler, and Kent hospitals, has about 8,000 employees.

Officials with Lifespan, the state’s largest hospital system, said this week that 97% of its workers are vaccinated and it has plans in place to address any staffing issues.

Lifespan operates Rhode Island, Miriam, Hasbro Children’s, Newport and Bradley hospitals and has nearly 16,000 employees.

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Regional News, Rhode Island