Most vaccinated as mandate for seniors homes' workers comes into effect: province

The vast majority of long-term care and assisted-living ­employees in British Columbia are fully vaccinated, says B.C.’s health minister. As of Tuesday, workers are required under a provincial health order to have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Adrian Dix said the province has data for 542 of 546 long-term care and assisted-living homes covered under the provincial health order.

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Of the 48,879 staff who reported their vaccination status, as required under the provincial health order, 46,924 or 96 per cent have had one shot and 45,457 or 93 per cent have been fully vaccinated, Dix said.

Of the 1,955 who have not been vaccinated, the large majority are casual workers in long-term care, he said.

About four care homes are below the 85 per cent mark, he said, “and have already received some support.”

In Island Health, the first-dose vaccination rate is 97 per cent among workers in assisted living and 95 per cent in long-term care.

Seniors-home workers who are partially vaccinated will have to undergo daily rapid testing, wear personal protective equipment and must be scheduled to receive a second shot within 35 days of their first.

Those who are not yet vaccinated have until Oct. 26 to get a first vaccination.

A similar order for about three times the number of health care workers in hospitals and community health care facilities comes into effect on Oct. 26.

If a long-term care or assisted-living worker refuses to be vaccinated, they will be in breach of the provincial health officer’s residential care preventive measures order, the Public Health Act, and employer policy, and “will be subject to progressive discipline, up to and including termination,” Dix said.

To accommodate possible staffing shortages as a result of the vaccine mandate, a public health order has been put in place to again allow health care workers in B.C.’s seniors facilities to work in more than one home as long as they are fully vaccinated.

Staff have been limited to working at a single site since March 2020 in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Facilities can apply for exemptions for fully vaccinated staff if needed.

They have also been advised to hire casual workers, change schedules, call workers back from vacation and stop accepting new residents in case of staff shortages.

“There’s a relatively small number of care homes that require support,” Dix said.

Terry Lake, president of the B.C. Care Providers Association, said most homes have had some impact because of the vaccine mandate but “worst-case scenarios have not developed.”

Lake credited the province’s extension of the deadline to be fully vaccinated. Workers were initially required to be fully ­vaccinated by Oct. 12 but now must have one shot and be scheduled for a second within 35 day.

“We’ve had people that in the last few weeks have decided to get vaccinated,” he said. “Allowing them to continue to work with rapid testing has averted a worse situation.”

Lake questioned the need to restrict fully vaccinated staff to working at just one site if there isn’t an outbreak.

Once staff are double vaccinated, he said, all the single-site order will be doing is prevent operators from managing staff shortages, vacation and sick days “and basically, not allowing people to work where and how often they want to.”

“There’s a need to reconsider whether we should have a single order with fully vaccinated workers,” he said.

Operators have been working without a casual pool to draw upon, said Lake. “It is almost impossible and that’s why it’s been so much overtime, and people are just burnt out.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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