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TORONTO – Hundreds of Ontario workers in hospitals and long-term care could stop working in the coming weeks because they were not vaccinated against COVID-19, further complicating what advocates call a “perfect storm” of staff shortages.

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The president of a union representing workers in long-term care, hospitals and retirement homes said the staffing problem, driven by low wages, a lack of full-time jobs and poor working conditions, predates the pandemic, and vaccine mandates are likely to follow. .

“It will have an impact on staffing levels that are already at a critical point,” said Sharleen Stewart of SEIU Healthcare in an interview. “It’s like he’s caused the perfect storm now.”

A November 15 deadline has been set for Ontario long-term care staff to get vaccinated or lose access to their workplaces. It is up to households what happens after that, but many operators had already set dates to de-license unvaccinated people, citing the devastating impact of COVID-19 and the risk of the highly communicable Delta variant.

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Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief physician, said Ontario is closely watching the “unintended consequences” of staff shortages related to vaccine mandates, but said they are needed in some jobs to protect the vulnerable.

A spokeswoman for the long-term care minister said the ministry will work with households to provide support if needed.

SEIU Healthcare is among those calling for the policy to be applied throughout the healthcare system over concerns that unvaccinated long-term care workers could jump into related fields.

Stewart also argued that without improving conditions in long-term care, unvaccinated workers, who are dealing with heavy workloads, low staffing levels, low wages, and precarious work arrangements, have no incentive to overcome their hesitancy to keep your jobs.

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“They’re thinking, it’s worth staying here,” he said.

Ontario has not followed Quebec’s lead in requiring immunization for all healthcare workers. But many hospitals have implemented their own hard-line policies. Deadlines are now approaching for workers to show proof of their vaccinations or face unpaid leave or layoff.

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A hospital in Windsor, Ontario, announced last week that it had fired 57 people who did not get vaccinated within a set timeframe. A group of hospitals in the Waterloo, Ontario, area have given staff until next Tuesday to get vaccinated or put on leave. Grand River Hospital in Kitchener said Friday that 93 percent of staff were vaccinated before the deadline and acknowledged the potential disruptions that lie ahead.

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“We also recognize that there may be an impact on selected services and lead times and we will do our best to ensure that we are mitigating that impact,” CEO Ron Gagnon said in a statement.

University Health Network, which reports a 97 percent vaccination rate, has given Toronto hospital network employees until October 22 to get vaccinated or lose their jobs.

The director of the Ontario Registered Nurses Association said the health workforce shortage is “a crisis of daunting proportions” that is largely unrelated to vaccine resistance. But Doris Grinspun argued that the impact of the vaccine mandates could be mitigated if the province enforced the policy throughout the health system.

“People need to work,” Grinspun said in an interview. “How many will leave if it is in the whole system? Where are you going?”

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Unions and workplaces are still working with unvaccinated staff to overcome their misgivings.

A Toronto long-term care home recently lost 36 percent of its staff to unpaid leave because they were not vaccinated.

Twenty-two Copernicus Lodge residents died of COVID-19 in previous outbreaks. A spokeswoman for the Toronto home that cares for Polish immigrants said avoiding more deaths was a motivating factor for implementing the mandatory vaccination policy in early September.

Marla Antia said the house was also concerned about losing a significant number of staff to illness if vaccination rates remained low when the fourth wave hit.

Since going on leave, Antia said 32 of the 111 affected workers reported receiving at least one dose of vaccine.

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The home plans to continue operating vaccination clinics to accommodate people who change their minds, and has not yet decided what will happen to those who continue to default after the final deadline.

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“We’ve seen the needle move a little bit, so that gives us hope,” Marla Antia said in an interview.

“We would love to have everyone back.”

Carla Sleep said the vaccine mandate has given her peace of mind as a worker and with her mother living in a long-term care home.

“It makes me feel more comfortable that it’s going to be a standard,” she said.

Sleep’s workplace hasn’t had a major problem with vaccinating vaccinations, but she noted that the understaffing has worsened since she started as a personal support worker nearly two decades ago. He said it is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Turnover is increasing even among the vaccinated new hires Sleep works with, and chronic understaffing has left her and other colleagues discouraged.

“This is going to be the hard part,” he said. “Unless you have good salaries and people are properly trained and we have the right workforce there, it’s not going to change.”

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