BRUCE COUNTY – Discussion of vaccination rates among staff at the county’s two long-term care homes ended with words of appreciation for the staff at Gateway Haven in Wiarton, where 85 per cent have received two doses of vaccine.
Chair of the Long-Term Care Homes committee of management, Chris Peabody, mayor of Brockton, expressed concern over the substantially lower vaccination rate among staff at Walkerton’s Brucelea Haven, where 69 per cent of staff are double vaccinated.
Megan Garland, director of long-term care and senior services, said that’s now up to 73 per cent since the announcement from the province about vaccination certificates.
She raised another issue that may influence any move to take a stronger stand on vaccination among staff. That is the general staffing shortage.
“It’s a challenge,” said Garland, who explained agency personnel are being used. Agency personnel require double vaccination if they work at more than two places … “and most do,” she said.
“A variety of operators are taking different strategies … some have formed a coalition making it mandatory for staff (to be vaccinated),” added Garland. “We have concerns about staffing and the impact mandated vaccination could have.”
Garland added that she was hopeful the vaccination passport would result in more staff getting vaccinated.
“It’s a complicated problem,” Peabody said, who added that he hoped for guidance from the province.
Garland related a recent incident in which Gateway had a fully vaccinated support worker test positive. She said that 49 residents were swabbed and everyone was OK.
The vaccination rate among residents is 99 per cent at Brucelea and 95 per cent at Gateway.
Warden Janice Jackson commented that she thought the rate among residents would be higher.
“I was kind of surprised,” she said.
Garland said it was a matter of choice, either of the resident or the person who makes decisions for the resident.
Residents will be given the opportunity to receive a third dose of vaccine, five months after their second dose. Garland reported the homes anticipate that will happen within the next two weeks.
She said in her report that both homes have implemented the (health) minister’s directive specific to long-term care home COVID-19 immunization policy. All staff, students and volunteers must provide one of three things: proof of vaccination against COVID-19, a medical reason for not being vaccinated against COVID-19, or completion of a COVID-19 vaccination education program.
The entry of Grey-Bruce into step three of the provincial reopening has meant changes that have resulted in what Garland called “a new sense of normal for our residents.”
There’s been a return to communal dining, where four people share a table. And the first offsite outing took place last week.
Garland’s report indicated staff, essential visitors and general visitors who are fully immunized (two doses of vaccine, with the second dose at least 14 days prior to the visit) will no longer be subject to surveillance testing when entering a long-term care home. Limits on the number of people who may visit a resident have been removed; it’s now up to the home to set “reasonable” policies.
Staffing challenges have been ongoing throughout the pandemic. The removal of the single site work order resulted in staffing issues, and so did the increase in hospital recruiting during COVID. The regular summertime issues related to vacation added to the challenges. Both homes have utilized agency staffing. A working group has been formed to explore and expand on opportunities for recruitment and retention strategies.
Currently, Brucelea is recruiting for the administrator, director of nursing and nurse practitioner (shared with Elgin Abbey) positions.
Recruitment initiatives discussed
Susan Petrik, director of workplace engagement services, said in her report to the workplace engagement services committee that “it has become increasingly difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff in key positions.”
Two programs are being proposed.
Workplace referrals would provide an incentive to current staff to encourage their network to consider Bruce County as an employer.
This program would be available to all county staff for a successful referral for a personal support worker, registered practical nurse, registered nurse or cook within the county’s long-term care teams.
Workplace signing bonus would provide a similar incentive to help make the county competitive in the job market. It would provide a financial benefit to people who join the team and are successful in reaching working milestones and completing probation.
The hope is that by implementing these programs, the county will be more competitive with private and public sector counterparts, and will be able to draw attention to specific hard-to-fill positions.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times