Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies are now in place for new hires at several privately-run long-term care homes.
Ontario-based Revera Inc. — which operates 12 long-term care and retirement homes in Manitoba, as well as dozens of facilities across the country — recently implemented the policy for prospective employees. Meanwhile, it conducts daily COVID-19 tests for current staff who aren't vaccinated.
"Revera expects that all staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they are able, and will request a documented medical reason from those who are not," company spokeswoman Catharine Heddle said in a statement.
Starting this month, Revera requires daily testing of any unvaccinated staff, along with PPE requirements that will remain in place even after no longer mandated by public health authorities. Vaccination will be a condition of employment for new hires, "except when impossible due to legitimate, established exceptions," Heddle wrote.
"We are grateful to the many staff who have already been vaccinated, and to our union partners who have supported and encouraged staff vaccinations. This policy is one more important step to protect both our residents and staff as we continue to battle this deadly virus, particularly the emergence of several variants of concern."
Revera's staff vaccination policy is "proprietary" and wouldn't be provided to the Free Press, Heddle said. The company also isn't providing numbers but said the "vast majority" of staff is vaccinated.
Employees at long-term care homes run by Extendicare Inc. are being "strongly encouraged" to get vaccinated, and those who don't have to undergo workplace training, a company spokeswoman wrote.
"Anyone unable to show proof of vaccination or medical exemption are to complete an education module, and show proof of completion, to ensure all team members are making informed decisions."
The union representing many private personal care home workers in Manitoba said it was surprised to learn of the Revera policy, said Shannon McAteer, health-care co-ordinator for CUPE in Manitoba.
"The union doesn't have a lot of say when it comes to hiring the employees. Until they're actually hired and become our members, they're kind of outside of our jurisdiction," McAteer said.
"We are supportive of everyone getting vaccinated but it's a personal choice and some individuals do have medical restrictions, which these policies do allow for. So we can't comment yet on the hiring policy except to say that we're definitely having conversations with the employer."
She said CUPE is generally against mandatory vaccination policies. It wants to ensure employees' individual rights are protected, but also encourage people to get vaccinated and support the health and safety of all care home residents, visitors, and staff, McAteer said.
"Quite frankly, it's a balancing act, and I don't know that I have a stock answer, because we're going to have to deal with it on a situational basis."
Eddie Calisto-Tavares, whose 88-year-old father, Manuel Calisto, died in a COVID-19 outbreak at Maples personal care home in Winnipeg last year, said there's no excuse for health-care workers not to get vaccinated.
The human resources consultant said she understands people are free to make their own choices — but if someone is choosing not to get vaccinated, they should also choose not to work in health care.
"No one is saying you don't have an individual choice. What I'm saying is: if that is the choice you've made, then you have no business taking care of people like my father and others who are already so vulnerable in so many ways that they do not need one more reason to be exposed to COVID," Calisto-Tavares said.
Fifty-six residents died at Maples between October 2020 and January 2021 due to COVID-19. They were among more than 100 long-term care residents to die of the virus at more than 50 homes in Manitoba's second wave.
Even before the height of the second wave, in November, half of the province's COVID-19 death toll had been tied to personal care home outbreaks..
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