COVID-19: B.C. care providers fear 10 per cent staff exodus over mandatory vaccinations

The CEO of an Abbotsford seniors care complex fears a loss of staff unless provincial health officials promptly apply the mandatory vaccination to hospital staff and community-based health care workers, too

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Menno Place is bracing for staffing problems on Oct. 12, when all workers at the large seniors community in Abbotsford will need to be vaccinated to be able to work.

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Some 675 employees work at the sprawling seniors complex that includes 700 residents in long-term care and independent and assisted living in six buildings. With the province’s mandatory staff vaccination announcement for those who work in seniors care a month ago, CEO Karen Biggs is worried about how much of her staff will be lost.

Staff at hospitals and health care workers who work in the community aren’t required to be immunized against COVID, and she fears she may lose five to 10 per cent of her staff to acute care facilities or to community care, such as in-home care workers.

“We’re all extremely concerned,” said Biggs. “My staff are literally across the street right now from Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, and they can just walk over and get a job. We’re like sitting ducks. I’m losing one of my best (kitchen staffers).”

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In the weekly calls with health ministry officials and public health officials, “we are talking to Bonnie Henry and we’re saying come on, this is not right. We’re desperately trying to tell them that you have to apply it (mandatory vaccination) across the board.”

The B.C. Care Providers Association, an industry group that represents the province’s care-home operators, says it has heard similar worries from its members and is estimating a 10 per cent loss of staff across the sector because of the mandatory vaccine.

“We are seeing people leaving long-term care to work in acute care (at hospitals),” said association CEO Terry Lake.

Provincial health officials said last week they are working on a plan to ensure all health care workers are vaccinated.

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Biggs said policy changes prompted by hundreds of deaths in long-term care homes at the start of COVID that forbade health-care workers from working in more than one facility caused staffing shortages.

“We lost 39 casuals when single-site rules came in,” she said. And the facility was hit by a recent outbreak, which sent 14 staff, all doubly vaccinated, home sick.

“We’ve had a horrible summer and the fall is going to be worse,” she said. “We’re not unique. It’s happening everywhere.”

Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, which estimates a 10-per-cent loss of staff across the sector because of the mandatory vaccine.
Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, which estimates a 10-per-cent loss of staff across the sector because of the mandatory vaccine. Photo by PNG files

Biggs also said she doesn’t know what will happen when the deadline for staff vaccinations arrive.

“(The provincial health order) doesn’t say what will happen,” she said. “We don’t know if they’re terminated or if they’re suspended.”

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She expects the workers’ union will fight to save their jobs through grievances or there may be human rights challengers.

“I think it’s going to be a legal nightmare … with years of wrangling,” she said.

Wednesday was the deadline for care homes to submit a staff list indicating what percentage are vaccinated and Biggs said that process was beset by computer problems.

The digital portal became available and when Menno Place sent in the list, it came back with 300 errors, including messages that the names didn’t match because the province had only initials for the employee and the home’s list used the full name.

“All the administrators we talked to were having the same problem (uploading data),” she said.

Lake said “technical glitches” were widespread and a number of operators didn’t make Wednesday’s deadline.

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He has requested the health ministry use data already collected through vaccine passports, rather than have the homes create systems for data collection and submission at great time and expense.

He said he has also requested the province sign an order that would require all new health-care hires to be doubly vaccinated, which would eliminate part of the problem of staffers migrating to hospitals.

Menno Place shows a 95 per cent vaccination rate, said Biggs. But she isn’t certain how accurate the percentage is because it is based on self-reporting.

A health ministry spokeswoman wasn’t able to respond to questions in time.

The Hospital Employees Union, which represents workers at long-term care homes, didn’t return requests for comment.

slazaruk@postmedia.com


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