By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Chatham-Kent Health Alliance employees will find themselves out of a job if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
The hospital released its initial vaccine plan last week, with the new policy moving into effect Sept 7.
Lori Marshall, president and CEO of CKHA said it is the organization’s hope that 100 per cent of the hospital’s 1,335 staff and physicians will get the shot.
“We know this is our best defense against this virus,” Marshall said, adding the CKHA decision aligns with hospitals across Ontario.
Employees who do not comply with the policy will face consequences, Marshall said, including unpaid leave and termination with cause.
“It is my hope we will not lose staff as the result of this policy,” Marshall said as a shortage of health-care workers and burnout among staff has been an ongoing concern during the pandemic.
Ultimately, Marshall said, the hospital is concerned unvaccinated staff will transmit the virus to vulnerable populations within the hospital, or to their own loved ones at home.
The hospital had asked staff to voluntarily declare their vaccine status and as of Sept. 2, and 87 per cent of the workforce had returned the survey.
Of those, 86 per cent said they are fully vaccinated.
Of the 83 per cent of physicians who returned the survey, 97 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Currently, the new policy mandates all volunteers, contractors, students and new hires be fully vaccinated, however more details are expected, Marshall said, when the final plan rolls out.
There are around 50 employees who are not fully immunized. Although surveyed employees did not have to disclose their reasons for not getting the shot, Marshall said medical exemptions, worry over the newness of the vaccine and human rights concerns are among the reasons.
Employees who are still on the fence will be offered further education and top-notch medical advice to answer any questions.
Marshall said the policy has received widespread support from the general public, adding it’s the right thing to do to protect the community.
She said there is a level of comfort when people know their health-care team has been vaccinated, adding staff is also more at ease when they know their colleagues are vaccinated.
Marshall stressed the new policy does not affect an individual’s right to be treated at the hospital even if they are unvaccinated.
The policy was developed in conjunction with five other hospitals within the Erie-St. Clair LHIN region. Earlier, the province had announced health-care workers could either be fully vaccinated or tested on a regular basis, but the new vaccine mandate goes further.
The policy comes as COVID-19 cases ascend in Southwestern Ontario. As of Aug. 29, Windsor-Essex had the highest number of cases at 119 cases per 100,000 in population compared to the Ontario average of 40.3 cases per 100,000 in population.
As of Friday there were 77 active cases of virus in Chatham-Kent with six people hospitalized. None were fully vaccinated and the average age was 58.5 years. Two patients were in the ICU but not on ventilators.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby is recommending other Chatham-Kent employers adopt a COVID-19 vaccine policy in the “strongest possible terms.”
CK Public Health has prepared a new webpage that offers step-by-step advice about incorporating a policy.
The Municipality of Chatham-Kent is also looking at adopting a vaccine policy with the matter expected to come before council Sept. 13.
However, Colby said a provincial directive would trump a municipal policy.