A group-home operator wants to see mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations extended to staff in community-living settings, out of concern for the safety of residents.
Earlier this month, health officials announced that immunization would be mandatory for anyone working or volunteering in long-term care and assisted living facilities. Workers have until Oct. 12 to be fully vaccinated.
The CEO of UNITI, a non-profit organization that operates group homes and other living spaces for people with disabilities, says the mandate is leaving their clients in a position where they are no longer safe in their own homes.
"Our decisions that we've made throughout the pandemic have been with the safety of the people we support and our staff members being our first priority," Doug Tennant told CBC's The Early Edition guest host Michelle Eliot.
"To us, that means that vaccinations are necessary for the staff members who work in our group home."
He said the majority of residents and staff have been vaccinated but, if immunizations were mandatory, those still on the fence would ideally choose to get a vaccine.
Throughout the pandemic, Tennant said, COVID-19 did show up in group homes but safety protocols prevented outbreaks.
Some UNITI employees have been in hospital with COVID-19 and have had to be intubated, Tennant said.
"It's been a very scary situation and our employees as well would like to have a safe environment to work in where they know that their co-workers are fully vaccinated."
Tennant said other group-home operators might not agree with him out of concern that mandatory vaccination would create issues with staffing in an already understaffed industry.
In an emailed statement from the Ministry of Health, a spokesperson said that early on in the pandemic, long-term care and seniors' assisted living facilities were identified as especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
"Public health is currently looking at the highest risk settings in health care and assessing the need for mandatory vaccination for people who work in those settings," the email says.
"There are other measures that can be considered, and we're looking at all measures to protect people, and adjusting what we're doing based on the circumstances."
Tennant said UNITI-operated group homes will continue to follow established COVID-19 safety protocols — but they aren't enough.
"Within a group home, where people are there 24/7 and staff members are supporting people with personal care, those protocols are there but it would be even better if the safety was reinforced by having employees that were fully vaccinated," Tennant said.
"If they're doing that for long-term care, my expectation is that it should also happen for B.C. funded group homes."
He said he isn't optimistic his clients will be taken into account by the provincial government because they've largely been ignored over the past 18 months.
LISTEN | UNITI CEO Doug Tennant calls for mandatory vaccines for group home staff: