Will B.C.'s vaccine mandate cause hospital staffing shortages? Officials preparing for possibility
There are concerns that B.C.'s vaccination mandate for health-care facilities will prompt many vaccine-hesitant workers to abandon their posts in the midst of the pandemic – and officials are bracing for that possibility.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the government is reviewing every hospital in the province to determine staff vaccination rates, with an aim of boosting those numbers before the mandate takes effect on Oct. 26.
"We're preparing for the circumstances that might exist if some people of course choose not to get vaccinated and choose, effectively, not to continue to work in their jobs," Dix said Tuesday.
Officials have indicated employees who refuse to get immunized against COVID-19 for the protection of their colleagues and patients will be put on unpaid leave – and the potential for that to exacerbate existing staffing issues at health-care facilities has left some unions hesitant to support the requirement.
In a statement, the BC Nurses' Union said while it "strongly encourages" health-care workers to embrace scientifically supported vaccines, including those designed to combat COVID-19, the system can't handle an exodus of nursing staff.
"We cannot support any order which will serve to remove even a single nurse or other health-care workers from the health-care system at a time of severe crisis," the BCNU said in a statement Monday.
"Nurses and other health-care professionals are forced to deliver patient care in dire conditions all too often while battling two public health emergencies on the frontlines," the union added, referring to the province's deadly and ongoing overdose crisis.
Earlier this month, a 70-year-old woman died in a hospital waiting room in Kamloops after waiting six hours to be treated for stomach pain – just one example of the impact staffing shortages have had on the health-care system.
The BCNU represents some 48,000 nurses across the province, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has estimated that roughly 10 per cent of them have yet to be immunized. If a significant portion of them continue to refuse after the mandate is implemented, it could have a major impact on the system.
Asked about those concerns, Dix acknowledged the implementation of B.C.'s mandate will pose "challenges," but noted that COVID-19 outbreaks have also caused serious staffing issues in hospitals and health-care facilities, particularly when they keep workers off the job for any significant period of time.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 24 active outbreaks across the province's health-care system, including at Chilliwack General Hospital, Fort St. John Hospital and Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital.
The latest outbreak, at the Westminster House long-term care home in Surrey, has left three staff members infected so far, according to Fraser Health.
"Reducing outbreaks and ensuring everyone in the system is working has a positive effect," Dix said. "Like a lot of things in this pandemic, what we're talking about is difficult, but necessary."
Officials have said there will be exemptions to the mandate for religious and medical reasons, which will be determined by the province on a case-by-case basis.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Travis Prasad