The local government in Ontario, Canada may soon require hospitals to rehire unvaccinated workers due to intense staff shortages as cases rise in the region.
The Ontario Hospital Association warned the government that it should allow current staff vaccination mandates to stay in place, local outlet the Ottawa Citizen reported on Tuesday.
Vaccine requirements help prevent outbreaks in the hospital, said Anthony Dale, head of the hospital association – and rehiring unvaccinated employees would put patients and staff at risk.
While a small number of unvaccinated workers were fired in 2021 due to hospital vaccination requirements, Dale said, the firings didn’t have a major impact on staffing.
In the U.S., similar staff shortages at hospitals are leading some facilities to ask staff to come into work when they’ve recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Ontario’s provincial government may ask hospitals to rehire unvaccinated workers, according to local reports. Pictured: A nurse checks on a Covid patient in the ICU of Humber River Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, April 2021
The number of Covid hospitals in Ontario ICUs is rising rapidly, with a record 80 adults admitted in a single day on Monday
Like the U.S., Canada is currently facing a major Covid surge driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
The country is currently reporting about 40,000 new cases a day – more than four times higher than the previous record, 9,000 cases a day.
As cases surge, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that Americans avoid traveling to Canada.
On Monday, the CDC moved Canada to ‘Level 4’ – the highest danger level – of its Covid travel advisory recommendations.
Ontario, the nation’s most populous province, is one of the regions that’s been hardest hit by the Omicron surge.
There are more than 3,200 people hospitalized with Covid across the province, as of Tuesday – a record high.
The region also reported record intensive care unit admissions, with 80 adults admitted to ICUs for Covid treatment on Monday.
At the same time, hospitals in the region are facing staff shortages as healthcare workers themselves become infected with Omicron.
The province’s health minister, Christine Elliott, recently announced that the government will send in nurses trained internationally to address the shortages.
Ontario’s leaders are also considering a new requirement for hospitals in the region that would force them to rehire unvaccinated workers.
The majority of hospitals in Ontario currently mandate vaccination for all staff, though the province allows employers to use regular testing as an alternative to inoculation.
These requirements led to a small number of workers getting fired – and these workers could be rehired by their former employers if the new policy is enacted.
Hospital workers in Ontario who were fired for refusing vaccination could be rehired under the potential new policy. Pictured: A patient is unloaded and rolled into the emergency department at a hospital in Mississauga, Ontario, January 2022
While it’s unclear how likely it is that the local government will go ahead with the policy, the Ontario Hospital Association put out a statement on Tuesday arguing against it.
‘Government interference on hospital decisions regarding health-care worker vaccinations would create significant disruption when hospitals are taking extraordinary measures to respond to the fourth wave,’ Anthony Dale, head of the association, said in the statement.
Dale said that the small number of workers fired due to vaccination requirements had not led to a significant loss of staff or changes to the quality of service at Ontario hospitals.
Instead, he said, the vaccination requirements improved care for patients by reducing the risk of Covid outbreaks in hospitals.
‘A vaccinated health-care worker protects the health and safety of patients and staff,’ Dale said, ‘prevents outbreaks and is not subject to as lengthy self-isolation requirements if exposed to COVID compared to unvaccinated individuals, all of which minimizes the potential disruption to hospitals operates as much as possible.’
Vaccination policies should remain in place, said the Ontario Hospital Association, to protect patients and prevent outbreaks. Pictured: A Covid sign outside a hospital in Cobourg, Ontario, September 2021
Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario was the first hospital to mandate vaccinations in summer 2021, followed by most others in the province.
At these facilities, the ‘vast majority of staff are vaccinated,’ according to the Ottawa Citizen.
Greg Hedgecoe, vice president of organizational effectiveness at the Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa, echoed Dale’s comments.
Rehiring the ‘very small number’ of former workers at the hospital who refused vaccination ‘would not have a material impact on the staffing shortages we are now experiencing,’ he told the Ottawa Citizen.
‘In fact, returning unvaccinated health-care workers to the hospital may increase the risk of transmission to patients and staff, and would amplify our staffing shortages,’ Hedgecoe said.
Hedgecoe also noted that staff shortages were an issue ‘long before the pandemic and the implementation of mandatory vaccination policies.’
In the U.S., no hospital has yet suggested such a dire move as rehiring unvaccinated former employees.
But hospitals across the country are facing intense staff shortages, thanks to a combination of high patient numbers and Omicron infecting workers.
In some places, healthcare administrators are encouraging staff to come to work even though they’ve recently tested positive for Covid, Politico reported Monday.
The practice is permitted under new CDC guidance, which allows facilities to shorten quarantine times if they’re understaffed.
‘We don’t have good choices – or the choices that we want,’ Shereef Elnahal, CEO of University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, told Politico.
‘Our staffing situation has been the worst it’s been since the spring of 2020.’