Thousands of health care workers were fired in Canada for their refusal to comply with government vaccine mandates. While most provinces have since dropped their vaccine requirements, many hospitals continue to require continued compliance.
One struggling Ontario hospital network is, however, contemplating prioritizing patient care over vaccine requirements in hopes of attracting more talent.
What are the details?
In March, the province of Ontario, home to the city of Toronto and the nation’s capital of Ottawa, lifted the requirement for health care settings and hospitals to enforce COVID-19 vaccination policies.
CTV News reported that notwithstanding this change in tack, Ontario hospitals continue to enforce their own mandates, along with hospitals in British Columbia and Nova Scotia. Accordingly, health care workers still need to be vaccinated.
For the South Bruce Grey Health Centre health network, which serves nearly 44,000 people, this may prove untenable.
SBGHC has been struggling with staffing issues for a long time.
In October, the health network announced that one of its rural hospital’s emergency rooms would be closing down, adding that health staffing in the province would likely “remain a challenge for the foreseeable future.”
At the time, SBGHC stated the “pool of available nurses is very limited.”
This staffing problem has only worsened.
The health network’s ICUs are flooded with flu cases and vaccinated COVID-19 patients. All four of its rural hospitals have suffered ER closures. COVID-positive health care workers have had to stay on the job.
Ivy Bourgeault, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, told CTV’s “Your Morning Tuesday” that “many people are grasping at straws in order to keep their hospitals open.”
Mandy Dobson, interim director of clinical services at SBGHC, indicated in a memo obtained by CTV News that the health network is now reviewing its COVID-19 vaccination policy.
A survey was attached to Dobson’s memo asking staff what they thought about the possibility of allowing unvaccinated workers to help restore order and lighten the load.
Anne Laxton, a mother of three and registered nurse with over 12 years’ experience, applied to work for SBGHC but was rejected on account of her vaccination status.
At a townhall meeting in October, Laxton noted that owing to a dearth of information about the vaccines at the time of their initial roll-out, she was unable to give informed consent.
Despite having worked through the worst of the pandemic, she was barred from returning to work in January on account of her refusal to comply with the vaccine requirement.
Laxton went instead to work in a nearby pub.
“I know there are some people who are worried about people like me, but I have worked in the pub without a mask. I have served my [former] coworkers in the pub without a mask and they kept sitting there, eating and drinking … but I cannot go to work with them,” said Laxton.
After explaining to a room full of people suffering on account of the health care worker shortage why there was at least one fewer nurse to help them, some began to shout, “Hire her, hire her!”
SBGHC is reportedly the only hospital network in the province considering hiring unvaccinated workers.
Desperate but stubborn
True North indicated that Ontario fired at least 1,665 health care workers. The number of health care professionals sacked nationwide was close to 10,000.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that when the conservative Ontario government considered forcing 140 hospitals and other public sectors to re-hire unvaccinated workers earlier this year, the Ontario Hospital Association told the government not to interfere.
Anthony Dale, head of the OHA, said, “Government interference on hospital decisions regarding health-care worker vaccinations would create significant disruption when hospitals are taking extraordinary measures to respond to the fourth wave.”
The vice president of organizational effectiveness at Ottawa’s Queensway Carleton Hospital claimed that returning unvaccinated health care workers to the hospital “may increase the risk of transmission to patients and staff, and would amplify our staffing shortages.”
Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario CEO Doris Grinspun said, “99 per cent of nurses do not want to work next to a nurse that is not fully vaccinated.”