Leaders of Manitoba’s faith-based personal care homes are calling on the provincial government to make vaccinations mandatory for all staff and essential caregivers in those residences.
"Right from the start, we saw a lot of outbreaks in personal care homes due to staff," said Julie Turenne-Maynard, executive director of the Interfaith Healthcare Association of Manitoba.
The organization, which represents 31 non-profit personal care homes from different faith groups, "has been asking the government for months to make a decision on this."
The requests have been sent through the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly to the provincial government and Manitoba Shared Health, Turenne-Maynard said, adding that the vast majority members of the association feel this way.
Currently, the faith-based personal care homes can’t require staff to be vaccinated or even inquire about their vaccination status. This is unlike a for-profit business such as Revera Inc., which is mandating proof of vaccination for all new hires at its 12 personal care homes in the province and requiring current unvaccinated staff to be tested daily and wear full PPE.
By making vaccinations mandatory for staff and essential caregivers, the government would bring staff at the non-profit homes into line with policies already in existence requiring all indoor visitors to be fully vaccinated, Turenne-Maynard said.
That would mean "everyone is on the same playing field," she said. "The province could be of great assistance to us in keeping our residents safe."
"A government mandate would be very helpful," agreed Gary Ledoux, chief executive officer of Winnipeg-based Bethania Group, which includes the Bethania and Pembina Place personal care homes.
Ledoux estimates about 75 per cent of group staff are fully vaccinated, based on voluntary disclosure.
"People don’t need to tell us now," Ledoux said, adding even if he knew a staff member wasn’t vaccinated "there is nothing I can do."
Requiring staff to be vaccinated is not a human rights issue for him, but a "public health issue."
If some staff quit because they refuse to be vaccinated, Ledoux acknowledged it would pose a challenge, since it is hard to find replacement staff these days.
"But I could live with that," he said. "It’s a risk worth taking to keep staff from infecting the residents.
"A government mandate would have been better earlier, but now it’s especially important if there is a fourth wave."
Laurie Cerqueti, CEO of the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre in Winnipeg, estimates about 87 per cent of its staff are vaccinated, based on voluntary disclosure.
If some staff quit rather than be vaccinated, she believes the centre can handle the extra load.
"There is a lot of public support for (mandated vaccinations)," Cerqueti said, agreeing she would like to see the government move quickly due to the rise of novel coronavirus variants.
If the government mandates vaccination for all staff, all three hope all staff at personal care homes will agree to be vaccinated.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.