Five private companies, including two with several nursing and retirement homes in Saskatchewan, say they will now require their employees across Canada to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Extendicare and Revera — which own a combined 18 homes in Saskatchewan — made a group announcement along with Chartwell, Responsive Group and Sienna Thursday about mandating vaccinations for workers.
Under the policy, any worker not fully vaccinated by Oct. 12 will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence, according to a news release.
The move is not expected to affect staffing levels, as vaccine uptake among workers is already high.
"But we need to do more," according to the release. "As rates of infection once again increase in communities across the country, unvaccinated staff are more likely to bring the virus to work."
The companies' announcement comes one day after Saskatchewan's health minister, Paul Merriman, said the provincial government is not planning to mandate vaccinations among select groups, including health-care workers.
Merriman said doing so would infringe on "people's personal rights." The Opposition Saskatchewan NDP party has called on the province to implement targeted vaccine mandates to keep seniors safe.
Workers in Saskatchewan long-term care homes are not required to get vaccinated or tested, said Dr. Rashaad Hansia, the SHA's physician executive for integrated urban health.
"But it is something we strongly encourage," he said.
The Extendicare question
Revera operates retirement homes in Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, Swift Current and Yorkton.
Extendicare operates the Parkside, Elmview and Sunset long-term care homes in Regina as well as the Preston home in Saskatoon and a home in Moose Jaw.
"Our average staff vaccination rate across our 5 LTC homes in the province is 90 per cent for staff first dose and 80 per cent for second dose," an Extendicare spokesperson said.
On top of that, the company's Esprit subsidiary operates four retirement homes in the province.
Whether the nationwide push for mandated vaccinations will immediately apply to Extendicare's five long-term care homes remains unclear.
In a statement sent to CBC News, the spokesperson for Extendicare said, "This is our national policy. However, while the co-management agreement with the Saskatchewan Health Authority is in effect, we will continue to follow SHA policies."
The spokesperson was referring to the health authority temporarily overseeing operations at five Extendicare long-term care homes. Extendicare operates the homes under contract with the health authority.
Earlier this month, after an independent investigation found Extendicare was "woefully unprepared" for the COVID-19 outbreak that killed 39 residents at Parkside, the Ministry of Health called on the SHA to oversee the five Extendicare long-term care homes for a 30-day period ending Sept. 4. After that, the province will review its relationship with Extendicare, said Everett Hindley, the minister responsible for seniors.
The Extendicare spokesperson referred questions about whether the vaccine mandate would apply to the homes under supervision to the health authority.
CBC News has asked the SHA if it will support the move for mandatory staff vaccinations at Extendicare's long-term care homes.
Earlier this week Barbara Cape, the president of SEIU-West, which represents Extendicare health-care workers, was asked if the union supported the idea of requiring long-term care staff to get vaccinated.
"I don't know why we would only mandate vaccines for a small portion of the population," Cape said. "Why wouldn't we mandate vaccines for everybody? Because it's not only health-care workers who need to keep people safe. It's every single one of us."