Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) will not mandate vaccines for employees.
“It was not an easy process going through the decision-making for how to proceed,” said CEO Carolyn Plummer at a Sept. 23 HHHS board meeting. “We took into consideration a number of factors including choice, including the availability of human resources in our organizations.”
Workers who are medically exempt from the vaccine or those who choose not to be vaccinated will be routinely tested and must partake in a vaccine safety training course.
Many hospitals in Ontario, including Orillia’s Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) and hospitals in Toronto, Windsor and Kingston, have recently announced staff must be vaccinated or risk termination.
“Patients and families expect those who take care of them to be vaccinated,” said Carmine Stumpo, OSMH CEO, in a Sept. 1 press release. “Many of our team members will also be greatly relieved and reassured to know their colleagues are fully vaccinated.”
Plummer said in rural areas like Haliburton, the decision to enforce vaccinations hinges on staff availability.
“The hospitals that have gone forward with policies that lead to termination for those who aren’t vaccinated have the capacity to fill the gaps if staff do leave the organization,” she said in response to a question posed by The Highlander. “We certainly don’t have that same kind of capacity.”
The ruling will apply to all HHHS workers in the service’s hospital, direct care and end-of-life care programs and more.
In her CEO report Plummer wrote that “some members expressed concern over having some staff who remain unvaccinated and whether they should wear full PPE at all times.”
Enforcing selective PPE wearing, she said, would be an infringement on privacy rights.
The decision is consistent with other similarly-sized healthcare services. Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare’s Pandemic Command Team announced in early September staff unable to be vaccinated or choosing not to would have to undergo regular screening and take vaccine safety training courses, but will not be terminating the employment of unvaccinated staff.
According to Plummer the decision also ensures “folks have a choice” about taking the vaccine. Currently, 85 per cent of HHHS staff are fully vaccinated, and Plummer added that no instances of staff to patient spread have been reported.
However, there have been instances of COVID-19 in HHHS locations. In February, Hyland Crest long-term care home in Minden declared an outbreak of COVID19, after two staff members tested positive for the virus. One further caregiver tested positive in March.
All COVID-19 safety protocols will remain in place at HHHS locations.
Widespread staff shortages
Healthcare centers across Canada have been experiencing nursing and physician shortages and HHHS is no different, Plummer reported last week.
“It continues to be an ongoing challenge for us to cover all the areas that need coverage,” she said.
Besides nurses and other primary care staff, HHHS has struggled to fill physician roles. Plummer said many doctors choose to specialize in one role, as opposed to working in multiple capacities at once, “which is historically how physicians in this community and other small communities function,” she said.