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Health department doesn't expect significant staffing shortages as vaccinate mandate looms

About 20 Providence firefighters protested on Wednesday against a vaccine mandate. (WJAR){ }
About 20 Providence firefighters protested on Wednesday against a vaccine mandate. (WJAR)
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Friday could be firing day for healthcare workers in Rhode Island who’ve refused to get vaccinated.

The state’s October 1 deadline looms, though it has been eased a bit.

Wednesday, about 20 Providence firefighters protested the state’s vaccine mandate, which includes EMTs like themselves.

“We are very passionate about choice. We’re kind of being demonized right now, looked as ‘you’re public servants, you guys should be totally for this,’” Providence firefighter Lt. Gillian Cardarelli told NBC 10.

“They should be given that choice. It’s not really anyone’s business why they don’t want it,” Cardarelli said.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare estimates close to 90% of the city’s firefighters are vaccinated.

Pare told NBC 10 he does not expect a staffing problem if there are firefighters who do eventually get fired if the state revokes their EMT licenses.

Rhode Island Dept. of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken told NBC 10 the department will conduct spot checks of license holders to determine their vaccine status.

The Department of Health eased up on the mandate deadline last week, announcing that unvaccinated healthcare workers that are critical to care can have 30 more days.

And because of that move, Wendelken told NBC 10 the state doesn’t expect significant staffing shortages come to the Friday deadline.

Hospitals have been working on contingency staffing plans.

Lifespan is sticking to the Friday deadline, and there are workers who will lose their jobs then.

“We have brought on additional contract labor and have been working internally to identify individuals who we could redeploy,” Lifespan’s Chief Nursing Executive, Dr. Cathy Duquette, told NBC 10.

96% of Lifespan staff are vaccinated.

Duquette said hospitals have been dealing with staffing challenges since start of pandemic.

“The vaccine requirement has just made a little more difficult the situation we’ve been struggling with all along. We may see, or consumers may see longer wait times for lesser acute circumstances,” she told NBC 10.

Care New England is also at more than 95% of its staff vaccinated, and is also saying unvaccinated workers won’t work past Friday.

When it comes to staffing, Care New England’s Dr. Raymond Powrie points out that a lot of workers have already been out because of COVID-19.

“It’s been a very costly and challenging situation for us with staffing for 18 months and we actually feel like the vaccine is an important part of our strategy to keep workers at work. We will have some short-term challenges that we’re ready for,” Powrie said.

Healthcare workers are challenging the vaccine mandate in federal court.

On Tuesday, a state Superior Court judge dismissed a legal challenge by firefighters to block the requirement.

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