Manitoba's premier is "frustrated" with health-care workers who won't disclose their vaccination status and are choosing unpaid leave rather than being tested for COVID-19.
"There are other provinces who've essentially just said, 'It's vaccination or no other options,'" Kelvin Goertzen told reporters Friday.
"We were very mindful and intent on putting that testing option in because we knew that there would be hesitancy among some and we wanted to mitigate that as much as possible."
Shared Health reported Friday that 178 health-care workers are now on unpaid leave. That number has fluctuated since Monday, when the province made it requirement for people who work directly with vulnerable populations to provide proof of vaccination, submit to a rapid test for COVID-19 or take an unpaid leave of absence.
Winnipeg's St. Amant Centre said in a newsletter that it was losing a "small percentage" of its team "whose personal values are not in line with the policy."
John Leggat, president and CEO of the resource centre for Manitobans with developmental disabilities said he's dealing with a small gap in staffing that is manageable thanks to "good contingency planning," and will be launching a recruitment campaign.
Shared Health reported that most of the 178 workers — 105 at last count — on unpaid leave are employed in the Southern Health region.
Staff from other programs in the region have been redeployed to long-term care facilities Salem Home in Winkler and Eastview Place in Altona.
"Where individuals don't even want to take the options that aren't vaccination, that is frustrating, because then it's something more than just resistance to vaccination." – Premier Kelvin Goertzen
Home-care clients and families in the Winkler area were notified that some lower-priority services were being temporarily suspended. Those include things such as "household maintenance" and meal preparation for those whose family members are available to assist, and less frequent in-home social respite, a statement from Southern Health said Friday.
The Altona South Central Post on its front page Thursday featured some workers on unpaid leave from the Altona Community Health Centre and Eastview Place protesting with signs saying, "Stop the Madness, Stop the Tyranny" and "Say No to Forced Leave."
The province added the rapid testing option to give workers a choice, Goertzen said.
"That was a very purposeful thing, to be able to say, 'In talking to health officials, vaccination is the best choice but, if you're able to do testing, that still provides that safety for the institutions that they're working in and the patients they're working with," he said.
"Where individuals don't even want to take the options that aren't vaccination, that is frustrating, because then it's something more than just resistance to vaccination. There's obviously something else that's going on there.... That is a challenge. There is some other hesitancy that exists there that really isn't vaccine hesitancy."
Health Minister Audrey Gordon expressed hope Friday morning that some of the holdouts may be changing their minds. She said the number of workers on unpaid leave had dropped to 166 from 176 Thursday.
"I thank all the health workers who either stepped up to become vaccinated or agreed to testing," Gordon said after receiving the seasonal flu shot from chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin at a media event.
The reduction in the number of staff on unpaid leave was partly due to a counting error and the result of some employees getting vaccinated or tested, she said.
"Our job... is to continue to work with those individuals to educate, to dispel the myths and remove the barriers and any challenges they have in getting vaccinated or tested," Gordon said.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.