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Hundreds of GTA hospital workers face termination or unpaid leave amid COVID-19 vaccination deadlines

Deadlines have passed for thousands of GTA hospital workers to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with some now being placed on unpaid leave or facing termination.

At the Hospital for Sick Children, 98 per cent of the hospital’s 8,258 staff members — including 100 per cent of its active physicians — are fully vaccinated.

But 145 staff have been placed on unpaid leaves of absence for not complying with the hospital’s mandatory vaccine policy or failing to provide proof of their status, though some are still in the process of submitting their required documentation, said Sick Kids in an email to the Star.

“We anticipate the number of staff on leaves of absence will decrease over the coming days,” said spokesperson Jessamine Luck in an emailed statement.

University Health Network, which has a disclosure deadline of Friday, told the Star that 99 per cent of its 17,200 staff are fully vaccinated, including 100 per cent of physicians and 100 per cent of researchers.

UHN estimates the number of unvaccinated staff could be as low as 18 or as high as about 200, with an exact number becoming clear after the Oct. 22 deadline, said President and CEO Kevin Smith. Those who have only received one COVID vaccine will be asked to take vacation or go on unpaid leave until they are fully vaccinated, he said.

Should staff choose to remain unvaccinated, Smith said “we will inform them they are no longer compliant with the policies at UHN and unfortunately no longer eligible to work here.”

At Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, 95 per cent of its staff, including physicians, are fully vaccinated, with 96 per cent having received at least one dose.

Staff at THP, which includes Mississauga Hospital and Credit Valley Hospital, were required to disclose their vaccine status by Oct. 20. Those not fully vaccinated face “progressive discipline” starting Oct. 21, THP spokesperson Amit Shilton said in an emailed statement to the Star.

Disciplinary actions include “a warning, unpaid suspension and termination,” said Shilton, noting staff with approved medical exemptions or accommodations are excluded from such actions.

On Thursday, the Ontario Hospital Association made it clear it supports compulsory COVID vaccines for health-care workers after publishing a letter responding to Premier Doug Ford’s request for input on the issue.

In its letter, the OHA said nearly 70 per cent of hospitals have put in mandatory policies that go beyond those implemented by the province, which requires unvaccinated staff to undergo regular COVID testing and complete an educational course on the benefits of getting the vaccine.

The OHA said mandatory COVID vaccines will help protect hospital workforces, prevent outbreaks and limit health-care worker absences. The association also said hospitals that have implemented mandatory vaccination have not seen such policies affect staffing capacity.

Hospitals contacted Thursday by the Star say the number of unvaccinated staff represent a small proportion of their workforces, and believe placing non-compliant individuals on unpaid leave will not impact patient care.

“We do not anticipate any disruptions to patient care as a result of the vaccine mandate policy,” the Sick Kids spokesperson said.

At Unity Health Toronto, about 97.5 per cent of its full- and part-time workforce — some 8,850 staff — have received at least one dose with almost all of its 850 active physicians receiving their first vaccine, according to an emailed statement to the Star.

Unity Health, which includes St. Michael’s Hospital and St. Joseph’s Health Centre, had a deadline of Oct. 4 for all its staff to have received at least a first dose.

“Over the past two weeks, Team Leaders and Human Resources have followed up individually with physicians and staff for whom we did not have COVID-19 vaccination records,” said spokesperson Jennifer Stranges in an email.

Those who still did not comply with the vaccine policy were placed on unpaid leave, she said.

The two hospitals have a Nov. 4 deadline for staff to be fully vaccinated. So far, about 211 of Unity’s 8,550 full- and part-time staff are — or will soon be — placed on unpaid leave, Stranges said. Fewer than five of its 850 physicians face the same consequence, she said.

“This has been a challenging time and having our colleagues go on leave is extremely difficult for everyone at Unity Health Toronto,” Stranges said, noting both hospitals have “contingencies in place to ensure we maintain our high standards of care.”

UHN started to ask staff to disclose their vaccination status shortly after rolling out COVID vaccines to its workers, Smith said. The network, which includes the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, offered educational opportunities for its staff, including more than 50 webinars during which workers could ask questions, he said.

“I don’t think we could have put in more effort,” he said, noting UHN asked physician leaders to talk directly with staff members and made community leaders available to those with religious concerns.

Sick Kids, along with CHEO in Ottawa and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, on Aug. 19 said it was implementing a mandatory COVID vaccine policy for staff and volunteers to protect its vulnerable patients.

At the time, Sick Kids President and CEO Dr. Ronald Cohn told the Star the hospital opted for stricter vaccination policies because 70 per cent of the children in their care are not yet eligible for vaccines.

As of Oct. 21, Sick Kids’ records show that of the 145 staff members on leave — some of whom work remotely — 19 per cent have received one dose, said the hospital spokesperson.

“It is our hope that every staff member who is currently not fully vaccinated will become fully vaccinated at their earliest opportunity and return from leave.”




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