State outlines enforcement plans for vaccinating health care workers

GOV. DANIEL J. MCKEE and the R.I. Department of Health announced on Tuesday their enforcement strategy for Rhode Island’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for health care workers. / PBN PHOTO/CASSIUS SHUMAN
GOV. DANIEL J. MCKEE and the R.I. Department of Health announced on Tuesday their enforcement strategy for Rhode Island’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for health care workers. / PBN PHOTO/CASSIUS SHUMAN

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Daniel J. McKee and the R.I. Department of Health unveiled Tuesday how they plan to enforce the state’s mandate that health care workers get the COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 1, including requiring health facilities that fail to meet the mandate to submit corrective action plans.

Health care facilities will be asked to report on their COVID-19 vaccination rates for their workers leading up to the Oct. 1 deadline. Those organizations that aren’t in full compliance will be asked to develop plans that:

  • Detail how the facility will ensure how all remaining health care workers will be vaccinated within 30 days.
  • Show that any unvaccinated staff member working after Oct. 1 is doing so because it’s necessary to maintain quality care.
  • Specify safety measures that the facility will take to prevent infections from unvaccinated staff who are deemed critically necessary.
  • Outline procedures to ensure new hires are vaccinated.

“This enforcement strategy is not intended to be an extension or exemption of the original vaccination requirement,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health. “On Oct. 1, anyone that is noncompliant is subject to enforcement. If there is a risk to quality of care and an unvaccinated worker must continue to work beyond Oct. 1 to mitigate that risk, the employer has 30 days to ensure that role is fulfilled by a fully vaccinated health care worker.”

More information about the state’s plans, including information on deadlines for the submission of data and COVID-19 Vaccination Corrective Action Plans, will be shared directly with health care leaders across the state in the coming days. Plans will be due on Oct. 1.

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McKee and RIDOH said the enforcement strategy will help safeguard patients and staff by holding health professionals and facilities accountable while also preventing disruptions to care.

“Health care workers have been the heroes of Rhode Island’s COVID-19 pandemic by consistently putting the health and safety of their patients first. The vast majority of health care workers have continued to do that by getting vaccinated against COVID-19,” McKee said. “The enforcement strategy for our COVID-19 vaccination requirement for health care workers provides clear structure and guidance to facilities that are working to get the remaining few who are not vaccinated yet while ensuring that all Rhode Islanders still have access to high-quality care in facilities throughout the state.”

Rhode Island’s health care worker vaccination regulations apply to approximately 57,600 workers. Rhode Island has an overall health care facility vaccination rate of approximately 87%, up 10 percentage points from 77% in early September.

“Similar to the approach that we take with other vaccinations that are required for health care workers, we are outlining and providing clear action steps to facilities to ensure full compliance by Oct. 1,” Alexander-Scott said. “Rhode Island’s effective enforcement strategy, requiring COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers, will limit exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable patients and will help ensure the stability of our healthcare system statewide.”

McKee and RIDOH also announced on Tuesday that an additional round of Vaccinate the Ocean State COVID-19 Mini-Grants will be available to nonprofit community-based organizations and faith-based communities looking to do COVID-19 vaccine promotion. The mini-grants will support work to get community members access to COVID-19 testing, masks and expanded COVID-19 education.

McKee said during his press briefing on Tuesday that $223,000 in mini-grants ranging from $2,000 to $4,975 are available to applicants via RIDOH. The deadline to apply is Friday, Sept. 30 at 5 p.m.

“The program was previously known as Crush COVID Mini-Grants,” said McKee. “The grant program is funded by the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] Health Disparities Grant. “We’re glad to be able to administer the program here in Rhode Island to support our COVID response.”

This isn’t the first time the state has promoted a grant vaccination program to encourage vaccinations in the state. Through the R.I. Gives Vax Challenge, the state and the Rhode Island Foundation dispersed a total of $750,000 at $10,000 each to 75 of the state’s nonprofits on August 18.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @CassiusShuman.

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