Revera personal care home workers and other staff must prove they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide a documented medical reason why they can’t be, according to a new policy from the for-profit personal care home operator.
Revera says the policy comes out of a “profound and hard-earned understanding of how devastating [COVID-19] has been for residents, their families and for our staff and their families.”
In Manitoba, there have been 469 COVID-19 related deaths out of 1,711 resident infections in all of the province’s public and private personal care homes since the start of the pandemic, according to a health department spokesperson.
Revera operates more than 100 long-term care homes and retirement residences across Canada, including 12 in Manitoba.
Revera staff who chose not to get vaccinated without a medical reason must take a mandatory company-sponsored educational session, according to a company memo obtained by CBC News.
If they still refuse the jab, they must wear masks and face shields and undergo daily antigen testing, even after public health lifts those requirements.
“This policy is one more important step to protect both our residents and staff as we continue to battle this deadly virus, particularly the emergence of several variants of concern,” Revera spokesperson Larry Roberts said in an emailed statement.
“Requiring that everyone be vaccinated or making reasonable accommodation for those who are unable or unwilling to be vaccinated is the challenge. And I think [Revera] has met the challenge in an exemplary manner,” said medical ethicist Arthur Schafer.
Revera’s policy for existing workers balances protecting the health of vulnerable residents and the workers’ personal rights, he said.
Revera has “respected to the maximum extent possible the freedom, the liberty of their staff to make their own decision with respect to vaccination,” said Schafer, while finding a way to accommodate people who are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated.
Education helps address hesitancy: ethicist
Schafer says using education to dispel misinformation is a good first step in addressing vaccine hesitancy.
Revera will make vaccination a condition of employment for new hires, except when impossible due to legitimate exceptions, says a company spokesperson.
Schafer says if someone cannot be vaccinated for health reasons but could still be infectious and potentially dangerous to residents, they should not be hired at all, unless their job can be done from home.
“Our liberties aren’t absolute and the value of public health … is going to be a value that will in some circumstances outweigh considerations of individual autonomy, individual liberty.”
The right to make medical decisions has consequences, and when those consequences are potentially dangerous or risky for others, our liberties may legitimately be restricted, says Schafer.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents Revera care home workers in Manitoba, says it has always been supportive of vaccinations for staff.
However, the requirement that new hires be vaccinated or have a medical exemption was news to the union.
“We will need to have discussions with Revera about the new-hire policy,” said Shannon McAteer, a health care co-ordinator for CUPE.
Schafer says workers at personal care homes provide a fairly clear example of a situation where personal liberties and privacy can legitimately be curtailed in order to serve the larger good of protecting medically vulnerable people.
That may not be the case at other workplaces, though, and he foresees workers and unions challenging company vaccination policies in court.
“In some cases, it may be so borderline,” said Schafer.
He says courts will have to consider several questions in determining if a company’s vaccination policy is reasonable and necessary, which will ultimately come down to whether the ends justify the means.
“A good end may sometimes justify bad means. In this case, the bad means is a restriction of our liberty.”
He notes we accept limits on our liberty when we present proof of vaccination to travel overseas or to enrol children in public schools, or when we submit to a vision test to get a driver’s licence.
Revera says it’s grateful that the “vast majority” of its staff is vaccinated but would not provide the exact percentage, saying it is not staffed to manage the number of media requests relating to staff vaccination.