Ontario hospitals are upholding their mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for employees as staff shortages mount to a “crisis” with more emergency departments temporarily closing over the weekend.
The province dropped the vaccine mandate at hospitals in March, but dozens kept their own policies in place, which ultimately led to the termination of members who refused to get vaccinated. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said these organizations are at liberty to “choose” to implement their own vaccination policies.
CTV News Toronto asked more than a dozen of those hospitals if they are considering lifting their mandates as the province faces a staffing “crisis,” as Ontario Health Executive Vice-President Dr. Chris Simpson described the current situation last week.
In each response, hospitals said that dropping their vaccination policies was not currently under consideration.
“Health-care workers deserve to feel safe and to deliver patient care in an environment that requires the highest level of protection available against COVID-19,” Ontario Hospital Association President and CEO Anthony Dale told CTV News Toronto.
“Having unvaccinated workers in the workplace would not be supported by the tens of thousands of vaccinated staff working in Ontario’s hospitals today,” Dale said.
In a statement, Dale went on to acknowledge that this group only accounts for a “very small number” of providers who choose to remain unvaccinated.
At University Health Network, up to one per cent of the workforce – 153 of their 17,500 employees – did not comply with their policy and left the workplace.
“UHN cares for many immune-compromised patients and immune-suppressed patients so we must provide as much protection as possible for patients and our staff,” UHN spokesperson Gillian Howrad said.
Dr. Jeff Powis, medical director of infection prevention and control at Michael Garron Hospital (MHG), acknowledged the current staffing “pressures” hospitals are facing across the province. However, he said MGH has no plans to change its stance on mandatory vaccination.
North York General Hospital and William Osler Health System echoed similar remarks. “For the safety of everyone who walks through our doors, Osler’s policy will continue to be implemented as planned.”
Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) CEO Doris Grinspun said she stands by the hard line hospitals are taking with their vaccine policies.
“The numbers are minimal, compared to the people who have left because of Bill 124 or the number of registered nurses, registered practical nurses and nurse practitioners who are waiting on the sidelines to be processed to practice, 26,000 of them,” Grinspun said.
“Those are the solutions and not short changed solutions which would put patients at risk.”
With files from CTV News Toronto's Abby Neufeld