Island nursing homes boast high levels of staff COVID-19 vaxxes

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TORONTO – As part of the Ontario government’s plan to protect long-term care residents and staff during the Delta-driven fourth wave, Ontario is taking further action with an additional suite of tools. This includes making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all in-home staff, support workers, students and volunteers by November 15, 2021, unless a staff member has a valid medical exemption, as well as expanded inspections of homes and redirecting provincial resources to enhance and audit existing testing in homes.

“We know that long-term care residents have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. As new variants continue to spread, we are seeing a growing number of outbreaks in long-term care homes where the risk to those most vulnerable remains high,” said Rod Phillips, minister of long-term care. “This enhanced suite of measures, including mandatory vaccinations for those working in the homes of long-term care residents, is one more way we will provide them the greatest level of protection possible.” 

Vaccination rates of staff in many homes are not high enough in the face of the risk posed by the Delta variant, and this is putting vulnerable residents at risk. To ensure the health and safety of staff and residents, mandating vaccination for in-home staff has now become essential, and homes are now required to meet the following requirements: staff, support workers, students and volunteers will have until November 15 to show proof that they have received all required doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, or to show proof of a valid medical exemption. Staff who do not have all required doses or a valid medical exemption by the deadline will not be able to enter a long-term care home to work. Newly hired staff will be required to be fully vaccinated before they begin working in a home unless they have a valid medical exemption. Homes will begin randomly testing fully vaccinated individuals, including staff, caregivers and visitors, to help detect possible breakthrough cases of COVID-19 as early as possible.

In addition to adding randomized testing of vaccinated individuals, homes will continue to regularly test individuals who are not fully vaccinated. The ministry will leverage provincial testing resources to inspect and audit these results by sending testing teams into homes to validate the results that homes have been reporting to the province. The ministry will also step-up rigorous inspections of homes’ infection, prevention and control measures.

Trevor Sykes, community relations coordinator of Jarlette Health Services, which operates the Manitoulin Lodge Nursing Home in Gore Bay told The Expositor on Sunday, “the health, safety and comfort of our residents and team members are the primary concern of Jarlette Health Services, each and every day. We have always implemented proactive measures to protect our residents and team members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, often ahead of government policy, including at the Manitoulin Lodge, in Gore Bay.”

“Jarlette Health Services has required proof of full vaccination from all staff, third party agency personnel, volunteers and students since August 31, 2021,” said Mr. Sykes. “This policy remains in effect and all staff, third party agency personnel, students and volunteers who are not fully vaccinated must provide proof of vaccination by October 12, 2021.”

Mr. Sykes explained, “we have removed barriers to vaccination and continue to provide support to our team members, including education, appointment booking and paid time for vaccination. These have resulted in high staff vaccination rates.”

“We work closely on an ongoing basis with our human resources team and partners to ensure staffing levels in our long-term care communities remain strong and that the excellent level of care and services of our residents receive is not interrupted,” said Mr. Sykes.

Don Cook, administrator/support services manager of the Manitoulin Centennial Manor told The Expositor in an email on October 5, “Achieving full vaccination for all Manitoulin Centennial Manor team members continues to be a top clinical priority as we work to keep all who live and work in our home protected amid the fourth wave. We were pleased to see the province’s recent announcement to ensure enhanced protections for all of Ontario’s long-term care sector.”

“On September 16, 2021, Manitoulin Centennial Manor implemented a mandatory vaccination policy for all staff, volunteers and contractors requiring our team members to be fully vaccinated by November 5, 2021. We are encouraged by the response among our dedicated team members and continue to work with them to remove any barriers to vaccination, including offering education and training materials, and one-on-one conversations,” continued Mr. Cook.

“As of October 4, 93 percent of our staff have received at least a first dose, and 91 percent of staff are fully vaccinated. We continue to see rates increase week over week and are optimistic our team members will continue to uphold our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure the safest environment for all those in our care,” said Mr. Cook.

A source at the Wiikwemkoong Nursing Home told The Expositor that 97 percent of staff have been vaccinated. As of press deadline, the source could not provide details of the vaccination policy of the nursing home. 

Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin said, “this announcement for long term care is an announcement that comes months late. In those months, seniors have got sick and tragically have died.” 

These new measures are the latest tools among a suite of action the Ministry of Long-Term Care has taken to protect residents in long term care, including rigorous inspections to reinforce infection prevention and control, regularly testing all individuals who are not fully vaccinated, providing a COVID-19 vaccine promotion toolkit available in 12 languages, organizing mobile clinics at homes with lower vaccination rates and homes experiencing outbreaks, providing homes with support so they can administer vaccines themselves in a timely manner, working to increase the hours of direct care for residents to an average of four hours per day by 2024-25, collecting more accurate vaccination data at the home level, and offering third doses to long-term care residents. As of September 30, 64 percent of residents have already received their third dose.

Fully vaccinated staff will continue to be able to work in more than one long-term care home, retirement home or other health service provider setting.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week well that core federal public servants will have to attest to being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 29 or face being put on leave without pay by November 15. And anyone who wants to board a plane in Canada will have to prove they’re vaccinated by October 30, the federal government has announced.

Prime Minister Trudeau in making the announcement with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “this is about keeping people safe on the job and in our communities. If you’ve done the right thing and gotten vaccinated, you deserve the freedom to be safe from COVID-19 to have your kids safe from COVID, to get back to the things you love.”

For federal workers, the policy will apply whether employees work remotely or from the office and if they work outside of Canada. The plan differentiates between those who are unable to be fully vaccinated, and those who are unwilling to be vaccinated.

There will be exemptions made for certified medical or religious reasons. These exemptions will only be granted under certain parameters, including providing documented proof of the requirement for the exemptions.

In addition to being put on unpaid leave, employees who do not attest to their vaccination status, or attest they’re not vaccinated, will be required to take an online training session on COVID-19 vaccines. 

The mandatory vaccination policy includes the RCMP, as well as nearly 80 federal departments, agencies and offices such as the Department of Health, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Correctional Service of Canada, and the Canada Border Services Agency.