By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance is taking a pro-active approach when it comes to replacing staff who continue to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
Chief Executive Officer Lori Marshall announced Monday that administration is moving forward posting want ads for positions that could soon be vacant.
The hospital has also consolidated some part-time nursing positions into full-time positions, she said, to be included in a full-time nursing “float pool.”
Marshall said leadership is working hard to ensure patient care does not suffer if some employees choose to leave because of the hospital’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy.
However, she isn’t downplaying the impact of losing staff, adding it’s not something “we want to happen.”
The alliance has an Oct. 31 deadline in place, but there are about 20 employees applying for exemptions under the Ontario Human Rights Code, for whom the deadline has been extended until Nov. 12.
After Oct. 31, only fully immunized employees and staff with a medical exemption or an exemption made under the Ontario Human Rights Commission will continue their employment at the CKHA.
The Ontario Human Right Commission code states that vaccine mandates are “generally permissible” under the Human Rights Code as long as protections are put in place to make sure people who are unable to be vaccinated for code-related reasons are reasonably accommodated.
The document states that personal preferences and singular beliefs are not protected under the code.
A written medical exemption from a qualified health-care practitioner must state why someone is excluded from taking the vaccine for a medical reason and for how long that reason will apply.
Marshall said vaccine refusal does not apply to any one department and includes both clinical and non-clinical workers.
Marshall said administration can no longer put surgeries and other services for the public at risk because some people choose not to get the shot.
As of Monday, out of an estimated 1,300 employees, 44 employees have declined the vaccine. An additional 10 have refused to disclose their status.
It means 54 employees could face termination.
Workers with exemptions who remain on staff will be subject to ongoing testing.
On the upside, Marshall said the majority of employees are embracing the shot.
Eighty-eight per cent are now fully immunized, with another 7.4 per cent who will have both jabs by the Halloween deadline.
Some 97 per cent of the hospital’s physicians have taken both shots and 1.6 per cent are partially vaccinated.
Marshall said she hopes more people will choose the vaccine and she again implores people in the community to step and get the shot.
She said she fears looking at the COVID-19 numbers.
“I wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach before I look at the numbers in the hospital,” Marshall explained, adding she can’t explain the difficulty and stress workers have in dealing with the fallout from the “high burden” of COVID-19.
No surgeries have yet been cancelled, she explained, and some – including gall bladder, hip and knees, gynaecological and cataract procedures – have been ramped up to help clear the backlog brought on by earlier waves of the pandemic.