Dozens of local hospital staff members, including nurses, on unpaid leave over vaccine policy
Forty-five staff members at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) face termination from Simcoe County's largest hospital because they are not double vaccinated against COVID-19.
Janice Skot, RVH President and CEO, says the unvaccinated employees, about half of which are nurses, were put on unpaid leave last week.
Those employees have until Oct. 31 to be vaccinated, or they will lose their jobs.
"We're really optimistic that of those people who are currently home on an unpaid leave of absence will continue to reflect on the importance of safety for everyone," Skot says.
"In this pandemic, we know that vaccination is the safest way to ensure that we have a safe work environment and safety for our patients," she adds.
Another 14 unvaccinated employees have been dismissed for refusing to submit to twice-weekly testing mandated by the province.
Skot says several casual part-time workers are among the suspended and terminated groups and stresses that 99 per cent of the hospital's 3,500 staff and contractors are fully vaccinated.
The transition comes at the same time as a sign at RVH's entrance warns that emergency department wait times are longer than usual and asks for patience.
Skot concedes suspensions and terminations over-vaccination status could be playing a role in longer than usual wait times in the hospital's emergency department, though she adds that the volume of patients coming in has also increased.
Skot says RVH is "continuously" hiring nurses and other staff members, with 80 new recruits welcomed last week.
"We are committed to ensuring that the public continues to receive the care that they deserve and they expect at RVH," she notes.
RVH and Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital are among 14 central region health care signatories to a joint COVID-19 staff vaccination policy.
Soldiers' Memorial has terminated two employees who refused to submit to regular testing and suspended 16 people among its staff of 1,500 who aren't vaccinated.
President and CEO Carmine Stumpo explains that the hospital has been leaning on its vaccinated physicians, midwives, and dentists to answer questions, dispel myths, and attempt to break through vaccine hesitancy.
"We really want to work with our staff to get to that 100 per cent compliance. That's what's going to keep us safe, it's going to keep our community safe, and that has always been our intention," he says.
SEIU Healthcare, which represents thousands of staff at Simcoe County hospitals, has endorsed mandatory COVID-19 vaccines as a matter of safety.
But union president Sharleen Stewart sees them as highlighting an existing staffing shortage crisis.
"The unvaccinated obviously are adding to the numbers, but there many vaccinated frontline workers who are leaving the profession," Stewart says.
She points to poor working conditions, workplace violence and insufficient pay as some of the factors driving healthcare workers to make a change.