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Mental health agency employee questions CEO's commitment to vaccine

Norwich — A Reliance Health employee has questioned the chief executive officer’s commitment to COVID-19 vaccinations among the mental health agency’s staff, pointing to the CEO’s public opposition to legislative proposals that would end the religious exemption for childhood vaccinations.

In an internal grievance, Philip Brose, who directs Reliance Health’s homeless outreach program, writes that CEO Carrie Dyer “is an anti-vaccination advocate” whose beliefs “lead to an unconscious bias” against vaccines.

Brose writes that he has witnessed such bias “around our Covid responsiveness and the vaccine rollouts messaging, and enthusiasm” and that “many at the agency have similar concerns.”

Dyer this week rejected the claim that her views have affected Reliance Health’s embrace of COVID-19 vaccinations, and Jack Malone, president of the nonprofit agency’s board of directors, expressed support for Dyer’s handling of the vaccine rollout among staff members.

Reliance Health, whose residential and community-based programs serve some 1,500 people throughout eastern Connecticut, has more than 250 employees, making it one of the largest employers in Norwich.

“Reliance Health has engaged enthusiastically in ensuring all its employees get vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine whenever they can,” Malone said Friday. “At no point has Carrie interfered with that enthusiasm or the transmission of information (about COVID-19 vaccinations).”

He said it would be “most unwise” for someone in Dyer’s position to take a different approach.

“If anybody at Reliance Health discouraged people from getting vaccinated, I would have a real problem with it and so would everybody else on the board of directors,” Malone said. “If anybody did that, it would require consequences.”

Dyer presented testimony to the state legislature’s Public Health Committee in February, urging lawmakers to vote against bills in the House and the Senate that would remove Connecticut’s religious exemption from existing law that requires school-age children to be vaccinated against certain diseases. The law allows parents to opt out of vaccinations if there is conflict with their religious beliefs.

“These two bills blatantly disrespect and disregard the fundamental religious beliefs of our citizens," Dyer wrote in her testimony. “... Please respect the religious rights of our neighbors and friends and trust in the good and informed judgments of the parents and individuals who rely on the religious exemption to preserve their faith and systems of belief.”

Dyer also testified in 2020 against a bill that would have eliminated the religious exemption.

Dyer said this week that when she testified, she did so as a private citizen and made no reference to her Reliance Health position.

“Nothing that I do personally bleeds over into work,” she said.

As CEO, she said she took responsibility late last year for registering Reliance Health employees with the Vaccine Administration Management System, or VAMS, the appointment-scheduling system for COVID-19 vaccinations, and has regularly disseminated among staff all the COVID-related materials and information she receives.

“We’re in a position where we’re not encouraging or discouraging people from being vaccinated,” Dyer said. 

She said she didn’t know how many Reliance Health employees have received the vaccine, adding that the agency has “a good track record” in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases that have occurred among staff members. She declined to say whether she has been vaccinated.

“The bottom line is a neutral stance on vaccines goes against the science and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations and puts our employees and members at risk,” Brose said Friday.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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