As healthcare workers’ vaccination mandate looms, hospitals make plans

PROVIDENCE – As the Oct. 1 vaccination mandate approaches for healthcare workers, hospitals and nursing homes in Rhode Island were bracing for the inevitable loss of some unvaccinated workers on Tuesday.

The mandate will exacerbate the shortage of nurses and other health professionals. The effect on consumers is expected to vary from entity to entity.

In an interview on Tuesday, executives at Lifespan shared their plans for hospitals in the state’s largest healthcare system: Rhode Island, Miriam, Hasbro Children’s, Newport and Bradley.

Only a small percentage of Lifespan employees are not vaccinated.

“We’re at 96% compliance,” said Lisa Abbott, senior vice president, human resources and community affairs. “That number has changed dramatically over the past four or so weeks since we first put our universal requirement in place.”

Abbott said Lifespan continues to work with refractories.

“Our goal is not to tell people what to do or to lead them,” she said. “It’s to help keep our patients and employees safe. We see it as very similar to measles, mumps, rubella, polio, whooping cough and all the rest. [vaccine] conditions. “

Unvaccinated employees who are laid off Friday will be welcomed later if they choose to be vaccinated, executives said.

Emergency plans for hospital staff

Meanwhile, according to Nursing Executive Director Cathy Duquette, Lifespan has “developed contingency plans, meeting daily across the system, according to our numbers.” We worked to get contract labor that is vaccinated…. We are looking for available staff who can be reassigned if necessary. “

She added: “We are really working in the current situation so that we can continue to provide as many services as possible. But of course, as part of contingency planning, if we have to move some of our resources, there may be disruptions in some of our non-emergency services.

Leaders urged patients with non-life threatening symptoms visit emergency care centers, primary care physicians and other non-hospital providers. No one will be turned away in the system’s four emergency departments, they said, but wait times will vary, with elective patients waiting longer.

The longer wait times in general, Duquette said, predate the vaccination mandate.

“Over the past few months, we’ve seen an increase in wait times and capacity issues in emergency departments across the state of Rhode Island and even across the country,” she said.

Other hospitals around Rhode Island

Roger Williams Medical Center and Fatima Hospital spokesperson Otis Brown told the Journal that parent company “CharterCARE has worked hard to persuade all employees to get vaccinated, and we’re happy that 93% While we cannot predict how many employees may miss the October 1 deadline, we have comprehensive contingency plans in place and are confident that our services will not be interrupted … Our rooms emergency and our hospitals, while busy, continue to manage volume safely and efficiently.

Executives from the South County Hospital, in an email, wrote, “We do not anticipate any changes in operations due to our organization’s compliance with the vaccine mandate. Vaccine uncertainty is a multi-faceted issue that has required ongoing support, education and communication with our team and suppliers. We are grateful that our staff have answered the call and will be in 100% compliance with the vaccination mandate by 10/21. “

President and CEO Aaron S. Robinson, Chief Nursing Officer / COO Anitra L. Galmore, and Maggie Thomas, Chief Human Resources Officer, added “Like all healthcare organizations to the Nationally, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our workforce, creating tremendous effort and expense to keep operations serving our community. Going forward, the impact on our workforce will require local, regional and national efforts and investments to build resilience and sustainability in the years to come. “

Fiona Phelan, spokesperson for Westerly Hospital, told the Journal that “unfortunately there will be employees who choose not to be vaccinated. They are valued members of our team and they all play an important role in the care of our patients. However, our communities rely on us to provide safe, high-quality care and we cannot do this without ensuring that all of our staff are vaccinated or have the appropriate exemptions.

“We also recognize that we must comply with [state Health Department] mandate that all healthcare workers be vaccinated by October 1, 2021. Less than half a dozen employees in different areas of the hospital will be affected. Each of these employees has been granted a religious exemption by [parent group] Yale New Haven Health, which is not recognized by Rhode Island.

She added, “We have plans in place to ensure that there is no disruption in services or care for our patients. “

A spokeswoman for Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket did not immediately return a request for information. Care New England spokeswoman Raina C. Smith told the Journal that 95% of workers “across the CNE yesterday at 7 a.m.” have been vaccinated. More information will be available on Wednesday, Smith wrote in an email.

Retirement homes are already experiencing staff shortages

State nursing homes – many of which are already experiencing severe staff shortages – expect a cumulative reduction of around 7% in staff on Friday, with unvaccinated workers unable to go to work, John said. E. Gage, president of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, which has 64 nursing facilities in the state.

Gage said about 706 workers out of a total workforce of 10,137 will be lost. Of those 706 workers, 495 are clinical workers – registered nurses, licensed practical nurses or certified practical nurses.

Gage said he doesn’t have much hope that these unvaccinated holdouts will have a change of mind by the deadline.

“My concern at this point is for people who have expressed significant hesitation about the vaccine, the chances of them changing their mind now are pretty nil,” he said.

Due to the anticipated loss of staff, many nursing homes have decided to limit their admissions, Gage said.

“Some have units that are basically on the back burner” until they can build staff. The move had a ripple effect on hospitals, which now have other options as to where to transport patients ready to be discharged.

“It’s going to be terrible for sure,” Gage said.

At Cherry Hill Manor and Nursing Rehab Center in Johnston, Executive Director Kathleen Gerber said four unvaccinated nurses who had been denied medical exemptions changed their minds and were vaccinated as the deadline approached. .

And there are people who without the warrant would not have received the vaccine, but they needed to support their families, ”said Gerber.

Ten other staff have so far not been vaccinated, “but they were encouraged to stay with us until the last minute,” Gerber said, as they could be deemed too critical to be lost.

In this case, safety measures can be implemented to keep them at work, such as the compulsory wearing of a mask, daily tests and isolated work breaks.

With a full workforce, Cherry Hill Manor typically has 168 employees. Currently, it has fallen to 135. As a result, last week it had to reduce its number of residences by 20%. Although the reduction is “a huge impact on income,” the nursing home will not take in more people than it can care for properly, Gerber said.

In a related development, a Superior Court judge on Tuesday rejected an attempt by firefighters to block a state mandate that healthcare workers, including paramedics, receive COVID vaccinations before Oct. 1 or risk losing their licenses.

With reports from editor Katie Mulvaney.

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