MHC mandates vaxxing for staff, visitors

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LITTLE CURRENT – Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC) has put in place a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for hospital workers, physicians and locums, tenants, contractors and hospital board members and is looking to make it mandatory for hospital visitors to provide proof that they have been double vaccinated.

“Actually, we made it mandatory this week,” Paula Fields, co-CEO, and vice president of clinical services of MHC, told The Expositor last Thursday. “We have followed the Health Sciences North (HSN) lead on this issue.”

Ms. Fields explained, “as of November 12 all staff will have to have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This includes all employees, tenants in our buildings such as HSN dialysis and mental health personnel, as well as contractors (i.e., work crews currently working at the Mindemoya Hospital on emergency department renovations). They will all have to provide proof of having the first dose by November 12 and evidence of having had both vaccine doses by December 7. And then, basically, if they have not complied they will be issued a leave-without-pay notice and eventually will be terminated from their employment.”

For professional staff, physicians and locums who have not complied with the mandatory vaccinations, “we will remove their credentials to they can’t work in our hospitals,” said Ms. Fields. 

“No, we can’t mandate patients,” stated Ms. Fields, who noted, however, “we are looking to make it mandatory for visitors to be double vaccinated and provide proof of this.”

Ms. Fields said as one of a group of chief nursing officers for Northeastern Ontario, that the West Parry Sound hospital has also put in place a similar mandatory policy for its hospital workers. Meanwhile, six other small hospitals have not moved forward in this direction because of concerns with human resources and possibly having to shut down some patient care services if they carried this out. “It would affect their (other hospitals) operations and their ability to provide patient care (because of not having enough clinical and nursing staff),” said Ms. Fields.

“One hundred percent of our physicians and board members are fully vaccinated and support our efforts,” said Ms. Fields. “And, right from the uptick of COVID-19 cases, from the beginning our (MHC) staff has been excited about getting the vaccinations. We are very fortunate here that we have a very small number of employees who have chosen not to be vaccinated. This policy has encouraged some to start getting their vaccines. But, yes, we anticipate some employees will be leaving. But, fortunately, it won’t have a large impact on our hospitals operations. We are very fortunate we have very good vaccination rates.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced November 3 that he won’t make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for hospital workers. He wrote to hospitals and other stakeholders last month asking for input on the issue. He said the government has looked at all the responses and at “real-world evidence” and decided to maintain the current approach, to allow unvaccinated workers to regularly get tested.

Premier Ford said in his statement that high vaccination rates in hospitals and strong infection control measures mean hospitals are safe and can manage outbreaks He also noted the news of surgery cancellations in British Columbia due to vaccine mandate-related staff shortage and says he doesn’t want to jeopardize care for Ontarians.

The Premier also said the government will keep monitoring the situation but for now will leave the decision to mandate vaccines up to individual hospitals.

The Ontario Hospital Association expressed disappointment with the provincial decision on mandatory health care worker vaccination. Anthony Dale, president and CEO of OHA said in a release that the OHA “is disappointed that the government of Ontario has decided against establishing a provincial standard for mandatory vaccination of health care workers. Our province has spent almost two years in a tireless fight against COVID-19 and the impact on our economy, on the health care system and on human health has been devastating. At this important juncture, Ontario cannot afford to let its guard down.” 

“The government of Ontario plays a leadership role in ensuring a uniform approach to key aspects of the health system’s response to the pandemic, such as case definition, screening and testing and personal protective equipment. Health care worker vaccination policy is no different. The Public Hospitals Act already requires hospitals to have communicable disease policies in place requiring proof of vaccination/immunity for 17 conditions, including measles, rubella, varicella and tuberculosis. COVID-19 should be treated no differently,” said Mr. Dale.

“Vaccination is the best way to keep hospital staff and their patients safe from COVID-19. While hospitals have robust infection prevention and control practices and adhere to provincial directives on personal protective equipment, it is vaccines that provide the highest level of protection against COVID-19. Vaccination has already had a meaningful impact in the long-term care sector for both residents and staff. Following the government’s implementation of a mandatory vaccine requirement for long-term care operators, the current number of outbreaks across all homes is lower than in hospitals,” continued Mr. Dale.

“There’s a strong consensus among Ontario’s hospitals for a provincial policy requiring health care workers to be fully vaccinated,” wrote Mr. Dale. “In mid-October, 120 of 141 hospitals from all parts of the province, totaling 94 percent of sector revenue and employing 166,000 staff, endorsed the position submitted by the OHA on mandatory health care worker vaccination. Unlike the approach taken in other provinces, the OHA has recommended that each hospital work towards achieving a provincial mandatory vaccination requirement in a manner and timeline based on their own circumstances to ensure stability of clinical services during this transition.”

“Given the sacrifices that have been made throughout the pandemic by businesses and wider society to protect the finite resources of the health care system, health care workers have a moral imperative to take every precaution possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The overwhelming number of health care workers who are fully vaccinated also deserve to feel safe and to deliver patient care in an environment that requires the highest level of protection against COVID-19,” wrote Mr. Dale. He added, “a provincial approach to health care worker vaccination remains vital to preventing the spread and scale of COVID-19. The OHA welcomes continued dialogue with the government of Ontario on this matter.”