Neighborhood Health Plan of R.I. joins list of employers requiring vaccines

SMITHFIELD – Nonprofit Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island is joining the the list of workplaces and health insurance providers in the Ocean State that have required their employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Peter Marino, president and CEO of the organization, told Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island employees that they will have until Oct. 1 to get at least partially vaccinated, or lose their jobs. Employees need to demonstrate proof of full vaccination by mid-November, the nonprofit said.

Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, which provides Medicaid plans, individual market plans and commercial memberships, employs 606 people. Currently, 74% of those employees have been vaccinated, a company spokesperson said.

“Neighborhood’s policy is not only the right thing to do to keep our staff, our members and our communities healthy and safe, it also aligns with Neighborhood’s mission as a trusted healthcare service provider serving Rhode Island communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” said Marino, in a statement about the decision. “Neighborhood will continue to be an active and vocal advocate for vaccination as the best pathway to emerge from the pandemic.”

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The move by Neighborhood Health Plan was followed shortly by news that President Joe Biden is issuing a federal mandate that all employers in the United States with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly.

With the move to mandate vaccines, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island joins another major health insurance company and several large Ocean State-based companies that have voluntarily established similar requirements. The Providence-based Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, which has more than 750 employees, announced it was establishing an employee vaccine requirement following the announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that the Pfizer vaccination received full approval. Other Rhode Island companies to implement employee vaccine requirements include Hasbro Inc. and CVS Health Corp..

Statewide, Gov. Daniel J. McKee announced in August that all employees of state-licensed health care facilities will need to be vaccinated by Oct. 1, or they won’t be allowed into their workplaces. Before McKee made that announcement, both Lifespan Corp and Care New England Health System announced mandates of their own, however many nursing homes and other health care facilities were holding out.

McKee’s administration informed employees at state-run health care facilities, namely the Eleanor Slater Memorial Hospital, that they would have 75 days of unpaid leave before they are terminated on Dec. 15 with the approval of the state’s director of administration.

Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island said it’s implementing the vaccine requirement immediately for all new staff, who will be required to show proof of vaccination as part of the application process.

By Oct. 1, the nonprofit said, current staff including all full-time employees, temporary employees and volunteers must present proof of at least partial vaccination. But by Nov. 12, they have to demonstrate they are fully vaccinated as a term of employment, Marino said.

On Thursday, Marino address the importance of vaccinations during the “Summit for Health Care Professionals: Self-Care Strategies for Enduring the Pandemic,” the second in a series of virtual events presented by Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island in partnership with Providence Business News.

“Neighborhood is going to continue to do its part and advocate for vaccines,” Marino said. “We know that getting those vaccination rates up is going to make sure we’re all healthy and protect each other. We’re grateful for you rising to the occasion to keep our communities safe.”

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com.

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