EAST PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) A registered nurse says her rights were violated when she lost her job after deciding not to follow the COVID-19 testing policy of an East Providence healthcare facility.
According to Tockwotton on the Waterfront President and CEO Kevin McKay, the RI Department of Health (RIDOH) tested residents and staff last month after a resident who was transferred out of the facility has tested positive for the virus.
No one else has tested positive, and as many nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been devastated by COVID-19, McKay said Tockwotton’s only confirmed case involved an asymptomatic resident who no longer lives there.
Christy Duquette was one of Tockwotton’s RNs tested with a long swab inserted into a nostril by RIDOH staff.
“This test was very uncomfortable,” said Duquette. “I said, ‘I think you hit my optic nerve,’ because my left eye was bloodshot and was tearing a few hours after the test.”
Then last week, Tockwotton long-term care staff were advised to get tested at the CVS drive-up rapid test site in the parking lot of the Twin River Casino in Lincoln.
Duquette offered to take an antibody test, a procedure that looks for proteins in the blood that may indicate exposure to COVID-19.
But she told her superiors she would not be retested at Twin River, citing research that questioned the accuracy of the rapid test procedure.
“It’s not that I categorically refused to be tested,” said Duquette. “But I don’t believe the tests involving people dabbing their noses are accurate. And I had no symptoms and didn’t test positive on the first test. “
Shortly after refusing to take another test, Duquette was ordered not to return to work.
While Duquette says he was told the re-test would take place every seven to ten days, a spokesperson for Tockwotton said there were no plans to perform regular testing on asymptomatic staff.
McKay, who did not disclose details of Duquette’s case, said the aim of the tests is “to identify possible asymptomatic carriers and to protect people living and working” in Tockwotton.
“We made it clear that even though it was voluntary,” McKay said. “Anyone who has refused to be tested should not go back to work. “
According to McKay, the staff “were paid for the opportunity to take the test,” but Duquette said he was told the tests would be performed on staff members’ free time.
Duquette said a supervisor told him anyone who tested positive again but remained asymptomatic would be given three days off and then had to return to their respective schedules.
“It didn’t make sense,” said Duquette. “They look for asymptomatic staff, but then tell them to go back to work after only three days?”
She was also concerned about the state’s contact tracing protocol that would go into effect if she were positive.
“What if they tracked down everyone I had come in contact with, but it was a false positive?” Said Duquette. “Again, that doesn’t make sense. There is a fear factor and bad decisions are made when there is fear.
Duquette says other nurses and healthcare workers in Tockwotton and other facilities also fear losing their right to question testing procedures.
“They’re afraid to stand up and again, they don’t want to lose their jobs,” said Duquette. “Nurses who speak out are fired. It’s been like this for a long time. “