Two weeks after a provincial deadline for all assisted living and long-term care staff in B.C. to have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, H and H Total Care Services says it’s had to terminate around seven of its roughly 400 Okanagan staff members.
It’s a smaller number than the 20 employees the business originally expected might remain unvaccinated after the deadline.
“[The vaccine mandate] went better than I would have thought…when it first was announced there was a lot of trepidation, a lot of conversation amongst staff: ‘I’m not going to do it, I’m not going to do it,’” recalled Hendrik Van Ryk, the VP of Human Resources for H&H Total Care Services.
“We were like, ‘Uh oh, this is not going to go well.’ But we continued to have those conversations with staff and we continued to give them information, education about the vaccine.”
Van Ryk believes those conversations with staff “helped convince many people that dedicated health-care workers to start the process to get vaccinated.”
However, the organization is seeing an impact from terminating a small number of their staff that remain unvaccinated.
“We’ve definitely increased overtime for the staff that remains particularly for care aides and nurses,” Van Ryk said.
“It’s unfortunate because it puts a lot more pressure on them and they are already under pressure.”
Despite the impact on operations H & H, which operates The Hamlets assisted living facilities, supports the vaccine mandate.
“We’ve experienced and we know colleagues of ours have experienced outbreaks due to unvaccinated staff and unvaccinated family. We know the risk is there so we want to take whatever steps we can to protect those we care for,” Van Ryk said.
The Hamlets’ locations are not alone in laying off staff this week. The province recommended all assisted living and long term care facilities terminate workers who remained unvaccinated as of Oct. 26, two weeks after they were placed on unpaid leave.
“All of us are very solemn about this moment because the requirement to get vaccinated is an absolute necessity in our health-care system,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix on Tuesday.
“We are hopeful and encouraging that people will still take the opportunity to get vaccinated.”
The health minister’s call is being echoed by the Hospital Employees’ Union, which represents some staff in the industry.
“We hope, over time, that they see their way to get the information they need and perhaps get fully vaccinated and return to the health-care system,” said Mike Old, a union spokesperson.
“We need every set of hands that we can get on health care’s front lines. These are skilled and experienced workers; we could use them on the front lines.”
For its part, H & H will continue working with professional recruiters to try and fill vacant positions.
“Depending on how well we can replace some of the health-care workers, we may be in a situation where we will have to stop admissions to our homes which, of course, backs up hospitals, backs up community needs,” said Van Ryk.
“We don’t want to go there, but it is an alternative that is on the table being talked about.”
The business is hoping to work with Interior Health to keep its facilities open to new admissions, but it is in stiff competition with other health-care employers to fill vacant positions with vaccinated staff.
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