Winnipeg care home issues mandatory staff vax order
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This article was published 06/12/2021 (540 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg personal care home has instituted a mandatory vaccine policy for all its staff, after a COVID-19 outbreak involving an unvaccinated employee and two residents, one of whom died.
Holy Family Home, a 317-bed facility operated by the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, issued a bulletin to resident families Nov. 19, informing them an outbreak had been declared in its St. Michael’s 5A unit.
The bulletin said the initial issue involved one staff member and one resident, a women in her 90s, who later died Nov. 23. A source at the facility told the Free Press the staff member was not vaccinated.
After a second resident tested positive a week later, Holy Family announced it would institute a mandatory vaccine policy.
At the time of that announcement, the facility said 96 per cent of staff were fully vaccinated. According to the terms of the new policy, staff must get a first dose of vaccine by Dec. 6 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.
Tara-Lee Procter, Holy Family chief executive officer, said in an interview she could not discuss the vaccine status of the staff member involved. However, she noted the facility had been considering a vaccine mandate prior to the outbreak.
“Everyone else entering the building is required to show their proof of vaccination status, and we felt it was fair and equitable to ask our staff to do the same,” she said.
Since announcing the mandate, a number of staff have gone on unpaid leave rather than comply, Procter said. However, the facility has been able to fill those gaps with the use of part-time employees, she added.
The outbreak is being monitored by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Proctor said. To date, 40 residents of the facility have been isolated for more than three weeks, which means they are not allowed to leave their rooms or have visitors, except for those nearing end of life.
“Everyone else entering the building is required to show their proof of vaccination status, and we felt it was fair and equitable to ask our staff to do the same.” – Tara-Lee Procter, Holy Family chief executive officer
The growing number of personal care homes implementing their own vaccine requirements is expected to increase pressure on Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson to re-examine the issue of system-wide vaccine mandates for all those working in health care.
Public health officials would not comment directly on the situation at Holy Family, in particular whether contact tracing was able to identify the source the outbreak.
“Tracing procedures were followed, which allowed all the necessary notifications,” public health said via email. “There would be no need for any further disclosure and, in fact, disclosing that information could inadvertently violate personal health information laws.”
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the challenges facing Holy Family are “a timely reminder of the importance of vaccine mandates” in personal care facilities.
“We find that the discussion from government is often focusing on the rights of the unvaccinated,” said Kinew, whose party has advocated for a firm vaccine mandate for all long-term care facilities. “But what about the rights of the seniors to be protected in their own homes?”
Despite concerns vaccine holdouts represent a significant threat to vulnerable patients/residents who are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19, some provincial leaders have backed down in confrontations with anti-vax health-care workers.
Several provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, did unveil vaccine mandates for health-care workers this year, only to delay or revoke the plans amid threats employees would leave their jobs rather than be vaccinated.
“We find that the discussion from government is often focusing on the rights of the unvaccinated. But what about the rights of the seniors to be protected in their own homes?”- NDP Leader Wab Kinew
In Manitoba, Stefanson has to date declined to require everyone working in a health-care facility, including those at personal care homes, be fully vaccinated. Instead, she has pledged to redoubling efforts to educate the unvaccinated about “the science” behind vaccines.
Manitoba has taken a similar approach to other provinces and offered health-care workers the option of undergoing regular rapid antigen testing.
(Currently, there are 147 Manitoba health-care workers on unpaid leave, while another dozen have quit their jobs. Shared Health reports more than 95 per cent of all direct-care workers are fully vaccinated, while some 1,600 are at work and undergoing regular testing.)
Not waiting for government to impose a mandate, many private long-term care facilities have instituted their own vaccine requirements for staff, including homes in Manitoba operated by Ontario-based Revera Inc. and Extendicare Inc.
Manitoba does not allow unvaccinated people to eat in restaurants or bars, attend movies or sporting events, or visit public facilities such as arenas and recreation centres.
Last week, the premier announced no unvaccinated person — including visitors and members of the legislative assembly — will be allowed to enter the Manitoba Legislative Building, as of Dec. 15.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.