WINKLER — After bracing for staffing shortages Monday — as those who work with vulnerable Manitobans had to either show proof of vaccination, take a COVID-19 test or leave without pay — just 30 out of more than 42,000 opted for unpaid leave by midday.

WINKLER — After bracing for staffing shortages Monday — as those who work with vulnerable Manitobans had to either show proof of vaccination, take a COVID-19 test or leave without pay — just 30 out of more than 42,000 opted for unpaid leave by midday.

There were "no significant issues reported and no service disruptions experienced," a Shared Health spokesman said Monday.

Salem Home Personal Care in Winkler, Manitoba, Monday: business as usual.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Salem Home Personal Care in Winkler, Manitoba, Monday: business as usual.

In the southern pocket of the province that has some lowest rates of COVID-19 vaccination and the most active opposition to pandemic health restrictions, there was no sign of trouble at two personal care homes and an area hospital that had been bracing for the worst.

In Winkler and Morden, personal care homes last week had warned family members of residents there may be staffing shortages; with Boundary Trails Health Centre waiting to see what Monday would bring.

Vaccination validations

For the past several weeks, Manitoba's health system been attempting to validate the vaccination status of all direct care workers, either through one-on-one discussions between individuals and managers, an online portal, and — for those who consent — use of an automated validation process involving use of their personal health identification number.

For the past several weeks, Manitoba's health system been attempting to validate the vaccination status of all direct care workers, either through one-on-one discussions between individuals and managers, an online portal, and — for those who consent — use of an automated validation process involving use of their personal health identification number.

Shared Health provided an update, as of noon Monday:

— Of the approximately 42,000 identified direct care workers, about 36,500 have completed the disclosure process. Additional disclosures continue to be received.

A "significant" number of sites and managers have collected paper forms that will be manually entered over the coming days and weeks. Managers remain responsible for confirming the vaccination status of direct care workers as they present for work. Those who are not confirmed to be fully vaccinated will be required to undergo testing.

— Of the disclosures received, just under 35,000 have indicated they are fully vaccinated. This represents more than 95.9 per cent of received submissions.

— As of noon Monday, 29,389 had been validated as being fully vaccinated. Manual and auto-verification for the outstanding submissions are ongoing.

— source: Shared Health

"Very happy to see minimal disruptions at work this morning," respiratory therapist Craig Doell tweeted early Monday. "I hope it will continue to be this way moving forward."

A woman waiting for her husband following a procedure at the hospital said there was a delay but it wasn't major and she wasn't sure if it had anything to do with staffing. A health-care worker at the site said she wasn't ware of staffing shortage impacting facility functions.

Outside the Salem Home in Winkler, it was business as usual, said one visitor Monday morning.

At the Tabor Home in Morden, visitors in the early afternoon said they weren't seeing any disruption.

On Monday, the Interfaith Health Care Association of Manitoba was waiting to get a better idea of what the situation is at its homes, executive director Julie Turenne-Maynard said.

Tabor Home in Morden, Manitoba.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Tabor Home in Morden, Manitoba.

Outside the community health centre in Altona, a few people gathered bearing signs saying they're forced to go on unpaid leave because they're not vaccinated and won't get tested, the CBC reported.

Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said he understands and respects that for some, there are reasons of conscience and conviction for not getting vaccinated. He wishes they would separate their belief in not getting vaccinated from their belief in not getting tested.

"When I look at the testing side of it, it's one of convenience — it's is not an invasion of your personal beliefs, it's just simply to make sure you're not a carrier of COVID," Harder said in an interview in his office Monday.

Many of the health-care workers refusing to be vaccinated or tested have been devoted to providing compassionate care to patients for many years — including one who cared for his wife before she died in 2014, the mayor said.

Winkler mayor Martin Harder at Winkler City Hall, Monday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winkler mayor Martin Harder at Winkler City Hall, Monday.

"It tugs at the heart strings to hear them say, 'Now I could lose my job,'" said Harder.

As of Monday afternoon, Shared Health was aware of about 30 direct care workers across the province who refused rapid testing and were subsequently sent home, a spokesman said.

That number may climb Tuesday once employers take into account those who work evening and night shifts Monday, he said in an email.

"Redeployment of staff to areas where a staffing impact is expected to continue," the spokesman said. "However, the number of individuals refusing testing and being sent home remains a very small minority."

"When I look at the testing side of it, it's one of convenience ‐ it's is not an invasion of your personal beliefs, it's just simply to make sure you're not a carrier of COVID." — Winkler Mayor Martin Harder

So far, 1,801 health-care staff, who work across the province in a variety of roles and professions, have disclosed they aren’t fully vaccinated and will have to undergo regular testing, Shared Health said.

On Monday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Manitoba is not requiring those who won't disclose their vaccine status to pay for their testing.

"Manitoba is one of the only provinces offering the choice of testing and we want to give our health-care workers time to become familiar with the test and the science behind the test and the effectiveness of it," she said when asked why Manitoba employees aren't required to pay for their tests.

"So we have decided to offer the tests free of charge and we stated that will continue until we exhaust the supply," she said at a news conference in Winnipeg. The province isn't ready to give up just yet on those unwilling to get vaccinated or tested, Gordon added.

"I say to them... we’re still here for them. We’re still here to continue communications. We’re still here to educate. We’re still here to dispel the myths around the vaccine and the effectiveness and the safety of the vaccine — and that at the end of the day, it’s about protecting patient safety and the safety of the individuals... when they come in on their shifts."

— with files from Danielle Da Silva

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.