Health-care worker vaccine mandate takes hold in Kahnawake

·2 min read

After the Quebec government dropped its highly-touted requirement that all health-care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, Kahnawake went ahead with its own such mandate, resulting in five Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre employees being placed on unpaid leave as of Monday, the KMHC’s Executive Director said in an interview Tuesday morning.

“We have moved forward as planned,” KMHC Executive Director Lisa Westaway said. “We moved forward because it was the best way to protect our staff, our clients and our residents.”

Outside Kahnawake, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube backed off his threat to place unvaccinated health-care workers on unpaid leave if they weren’t fully inoculated by November 15. Westaway said despite that move, Kahnawake will move forward with those five staffers on unpaid leave because the community has been more conservative in its approach than Quebec has – with the results to prove it.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been more cautious in our approach here. We felt (adhering to the vaccination mandate) was the best way to move forward and protect people. Our outpatient clinic is now a ‘hot clinic,’ meaning our staff is equipped in PPE and could be interacting with people with COVID-19,” Westaway said, adding that Quebec’s compromise of testing unvaccinated health-care employees three times a week isn’t proactive enough for the community, so that wasn’t an option.

Those employees that are now on unpaid leave aren’t left without options, Westaway said. KMHC has offered to help them coordinate interviews for other jobs, and other community organizations have also stepped forward to help, she added.

“We took the time to thank these people for their time and service. This is not a punitive measure, and it’s important to note these people haven’t lost their jobs, but we have had to put everything we have on the side of protecting our employees, our clients and our residents,” Westaway said. “We have put many, many measures in place to reduce risk. The vaccine mandate is just one of those.”

In addition, the hospital’s staffing levels remain a concern – the nurse-patient ratio is still on the acceptable side, Westaway said -- not because of the mandate, but because of the pandemic.

“It’s been very difficult for all of us. The staff is exhausted, with the pandemic going on as long as it has, but it doesn’t change our responsibility to keep people safe. Our nursing director has done a great job with our staffing levels. In the end, though, we have an obligation to ensure patient safety.”

The KMHC has also been dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Inpatient Care Services Department, which has effected one resident and two employees.

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase

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