By Sue Tiffin
In a reversal from an earlier decision discussed at a Sept. 23 Haliburton Highlands Health Services board meeting, staff and physicians working in HHHS hospitals, long-term care facilities and community programs must now be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15 or be placed on unpaid leave.
As previously reported, at the board meeting, president and CEO Carolyn Plummer spoke to the decision to not make vaccinations among medical staff mandatory, as some health facilities have done in other areas, noting that the HHHS policy took into consideration a number of factors including choice and availability of health care professionals in the region. Staffing shortages were already an issue, and if vaccination among staff were to be made mandatory, the requirement could lead to even more drastic staffing shortages.
At that time, a total of 88 per cent of staff had had a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 85 per cent were fully vaccinated. As of Sept. 7, a vaccination policy had been implemented for HHHS staff, with a requirement for proof of vaccination or written proof of a valid medical exemption while unvaccinated staff, including those with medical exemptions, were required to complete an education program regarding COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine safety, and undergo regular surveillance testing for COVID-19.
On Oct. 1, the provincial government announced that COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory for all long-term care home staff in the province and the HHHS policy changed soon after that.
“The vaccine policy process is one that has evolved over time; the decisions have been difficult, and have not been made lightly,” Plummer told the Times in response to the change. “When the initial iteration of our vaccination policy was implemented, our vaccination rate was lower – i.e., fewer staff were vaccinated; also at that time, we were facing significant staffing challenges. Like several other smaller hospitals and healthcare organizations, we were concerned that a vaccine mandate could result in the need to reduce or even close some of our services. We also knew the policy would evolve as the overall situation across the province evolved. At this point in time, more and more healthcare organizations are mandating vaccines, and the Ministry of Long-Term Care has now mandated vaccines for all long-term care staff, including those at HHHS who staff our two long-term care homes. Based on the need to support equity across the organization while also creating a safe environment for our patients, residents, clients, and staff, we updated our policy accordingly. At the time of the most recent policy revision, our staff vaccination rate has improved and our staffing challenges are less acute than they were several weeks ago.”
Plummer said both positive and negative feedback had been received regarding the initial policy direction and the revised policy direction.
with files from Katrina Boguski