B.C. care homes deal with staffing shortages as COVID-19 vaccine deadline passes
For those living in a long-term care home or assisted living facility in British Columbia, staffing shortages are neither new nor welcome, but they could worsen as nearly 2,000 workers in those industries are off the job because they aren't vaccinated against COVID-19.
Dr. Bonnie Henry brought in a public health order with the requirement that staff in seniors' care homes be immunized or, potentially, unemployed with a deadline of Oct. 12.
In a briefing, Health Minister Adrian Dix said of more than 48,000 workers, 1,996 were not vaccinated, adding many were casual employees. He also tried to reassure residents and their loved ones that care won't be compromised.
"The province is working with health authorities and operators on a home-by-home basis to ensure that if workers do not make the decision to get vaccinated, contingency plans are in place to ensure residents continue to get the care they need," said Dix.
Terry Lake with the BC Care Providers Association likened the system to outbreak protocols, where health authorities would backfill staff at homes.
Yet one care operator is raising concerns.
Hendrik Van Ryk, the VP of Human Resources at H and H Total Care Services, which runs several homes in B.C. under the name "The Hamlets" said the business is losing 20 staff, and 14 are full time. He said he reached out to several health authorities and was told they don't have the resources to help.
"It's putting a lot of stress on our vaccinated staff and that's not sustainable," added Van Ryk.
Workers who aren't vaccinated will be suspended without pay and given time to get vaccinated. If they don't comply with the vaccine mandate, Dix said, there could be more severe consequences.
"If a long-term care or assisted living worker refuses to be vaccinated, they will be subject to progressive discipline up to, and including, termination," Dix said
While there's concern about the impact on already overworked staff in an industry that's seen shortages for years, Lake said for the most part, the worst fears didn't materialize.
Visitors to seniors homes also need to show proof of having at least one shot -- later this month. Anyone working or volunteering in acute or community care will also need to be vaccinated. Lake thinks that's a good thing.
"Ultimately there will be some people who choose not to get the vaccine and I would argue health care is not the right profession for them."