As the deadline to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 quickly approaches, 54 staff members at Chatham-Kent Health Alliance hospitals risk having their jobs terminated.
CKHA President and CEO Lori Marshall reported on October 4 a total of 54 of the roughly 1,300 staff at the Chatham and Wallaceburg sites are still hesitant about getting the shot. She noted seven have a medical exemption and will need to get tested twice a week, 44 have declined the shot, and 10 refuse to provide their vaccination status.
Marshall said the hospital is trying to work with hesitant employees to determine what their barriers are. While she admitted she is worried about losing staff, she said work is underway to prevent that. She believes enhanced recruiting efforts and other strategies will allow the hospital to continue operating with proper staffing levels.
“The impact of a small number of individuals having to leave the organization, essentially by their choice, to me was a lower risk than the risk we had previously of not having a mandatory vaccine policy in place, and individuals becoming ill and then impacting and potentially making the community sick,” said Marshall
According to Chief Nursing Executive Meredith Whitehead at CKHA, some staff feel the vaccines are unsafe due to online misinformation, and some are demanding freedom of choice. She noted that the vaccine hesitancy is spread out across the entire hospital and isn’t coming from any one particular section.
Whitehead said as the deadline quickly approaches, the health alliance has been preparing for the loss of these positions.
She added that nine full-time nursing positions had been created from the part-time pool of nurses, which decreases the number of staff needed by increasing their hours.
“We know from the staff that have already been adamant that this is their choice and they will not be continuing their employment from October 31, those jobs have already been posted because we know that we will need to fill them,” Whitehead said.
As it stands, Chatham-Kent has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the province and one of the highest COVID-19 rates. Marshall said this creates undue stress and exhaustion on her workers, which leads to higher demand for sick days because they’re working a lot of overtime.
“I wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach before I look at the numbers in the hospital. It really concerns me,” said Marshall. “I can’t emphasize enough how difficult it is for everyone here working at CKHA with this high burden of Covid-19 positive disease in our community right now.”
The current average age of COVID-positive patients admitted to the hospital is 52, with the range going from 74 down to a teenager, Marshall said
“This is not something any of us should be ignoring,” she said.
Earlier last month, Marshall noted the hospital only had 85 percent of staff vaccinated and could lose approximately 200 employees to illness if a vaccination policy was not put in place. She said 54 is a significant but low number and hopes it’s lower at the end of the month.
“I don’t want to downplay the impact of losing staff. It’s not something we want to have happen, and we’re trying to mitigate that risk as best as we can,” said Marshall.
Marshall also noted elective surgeries had not been cancelled at CKHA. In fact, some surgeries such as gynecological, gall, hip, knee, and cataract procedures are actually being increased to meet targets and clear up the backlog. However, she said elective surgeries could be cancelled if the community is not careful and more residents don’t get vaccinated.
Despite calls for hospitals to start denying care to unvaccinated patients unless they promise to get the shot, Marshall said the hospital would not do that as it’s legally and ethically wrong.
CKHA has given its employees until October 31 to get fully vaccinated, or their employment will be terminated. Doctors who don’t get vaccinated will have their hospital privileges suspended indefinitely. Marshall noted that nearly all CKHA doctors are vaccinated, while employees continue to have a 95.4 percent vaccination rate.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News