The most stringent staff vaccination policies come as Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and St. Joseph’s Healthcare already have hundreds of job vacancies among them.
It is also at the same time as the Ontario COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Board it warned that burnout has increased during the pandemic “to levels that pose a threat to maintaining a functioning health workforce.”
“The burnout of healthcare workers is now threatening Ontario’s overall healthcare workforce, and will likely outlast the pandemic,” the scientific board said in a tweet Tuesday. “Ontario should pay special attention to those most at risk of burnout: nurses, ICU and ER staff, women, recent graduates and trainees. Even small changes have big effects on patient safety, absenteeism and mental health. “
As of October 12, approximately 382 of St. Joseph’s 5,878 employees and physicians are unvaccinated, have refused to provide their status, or have medical or religious exemptions. Those without exemptions face disciplinary action including termination once the mandatory vaccination takes effect in November.
Another 118 St. Joseph staff members have received a COVID injection and need their second dose.
St. Joseph’s has not provided an exact date for its mandatory vaccination policy to go into effect. At HHS, it goes into effect on November 30.
HHS has about 680 unvaccinated employees and physicians, as well as 400 more who have declined to disclose their status, for a total of nearly 1,100 holdouts out of a workforce of about 13,250.
Executive Director Rob MacIsaac dismissed concerns that the vaccine mandate will exacerbate existing staff shortages, saying HHS will be “prudent” about how it implements the policy.
“There is no doubt that continuity of operations can be maintained while a mandatory vaccination policy is applied and this has been confirmed in other hospitals in the province,” he said at a town hall on October 7.
About 40 percent of Ontario hospitals have already adopted stricter measures than the minimum required by the province: disclosure of vaccine status, as well as regular education and testing for the unvaccinated.
For now, both HHS and St. Joseph’s have that minimum policy before they get stricter next month.
HHS, which is the largest employer in the city, already began implementing disciplinary measures last week for those who will not release information, receive education or take tests.
The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) has said in a policy statement that it does not support “penalizing and firing nurses when we need them most.”
The scientific table report published on October 7 concluded that “the COVID-19 pandemic has created a cycle of understaffing along with difficult working conditions that can lead to burnout. Strong interventions to empower people, improve work environments, and address drivers of health system burnout are important to keep and support health workers in hospitals. “
He also cautioned: “Organizations should ensure adequate staffing by continuously assessing workload, including mitigating data entry and administrative burdens, efforts to reduce overtime, and avoid long shifts and deployment. of staff in areas where they lack training. “
HHS alone had 280 openings as of Aug. 31, including 150 nursing positions. At times during the pandemic, HHS has dispatched positions for nearly 300 nurses.
However, two outbreaks in the past two weeks have shown that Hamilton hospitals remain vulnerable to COVID.
An outbreak declared Oct. 9 closed a kidney unit at St. Joseph’s to new admissions after two patients and a visitor tested positive.
A deadly outbreak in the burn trauma unit at Hamilton General Hospital has infected seven staff members and one patient since Sept. 27. The outbreak, in which one person died, was declared on October 10.
The province has already introduced mandatory vaccination for staff in long-term care homes starting on November 15.
The Ontario Medical Director of Health will next focus on hospitals, home care, freestanding health facilities, and ambulance services. After that, Dr. Kieran Moore will set his sights on education workers.
Of the 12 active outbreaks in Hamilton, seven are in schools, including a new one declared Oct. 9 at Holbrook Elementary School in West Mountain, where two students tested positive.
A new outbreak was also declared on October 10 at the Christian Horizons group home on West 5th Street, where two staff members were infected.
PJ Daly Contracting Ltd. had a declared outbreak on October 8 after two staff members tested positive.
The city reported the death of a resident in his 60s with COVID on Tuesday, bringing the death toll from the pandemic to 416.
Joanna Frketich is a Hamilton reporter who covers health issues for The Spectator. Contact her by email: [email protected]