Possibility of unvaccinated healthcare workers underscores 'crisis': expert

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As Ontario’s beleaguered health care system faces severe staffing shortages, particularly among registered nurses, some hospitals are considering the possibility of hiring unvaccinated workers to increase care capacity.

And the decision to change policies to bring in unvaccinated workers speaks to the larger problem of healthcare settings failing to attract and retain workers, Ivy Bourgeault, associate professor at the University of ‘Ottawa and Canada Research Chair in Comparative Workplace Health Policy, told CTV’s Your Morning Tuesday.

“Due to the crisis situation we find ourselves in, many people are holding on to straws to keep their hospitals open,” she said.

This is the downward spiral we are talking about. There are very high levels of workload, which leads to very high levels of burnout,” she said.

Attrition can involve healthcare workers leaving the field entirely or simply working fewer hours to deal with burnout, she said.

In a note obtained by CTV News last weekMandy Dobson, acting director of clinical services at South Bruce Gray Health Center (SBGHC), said the health system is conducting a review of its COVID-19 vaccination policy.

In the memo, Dobson referred to “significant health human resource challenges” that led to the closure of emergency departments at SBGHC hospitals in Kincardine, Walkerton, Chesley and Durham.

Across Ontario and in several other provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba, a resurgence of respiratory syncytial virus, an influenza epidemic and COVID-19 have overwhelmed pediatric intensive care units and caused not only closures, but also an increase in waiting times in the emergency room.

Health care systems in most provinces have reduced vaccination requirements for their staff. Nova Scotia and British Columbia are the other jurisdictions where provincial governments mandate the vaccination of healthcare workers. In Ontario, while the province dropped its mandate for healthcare workers in March, most hospitals continue to enforce their own mandates.

The SBGHC is the only hospital network in Ontario that has signaled a possible decision to open its doors to unvaccinated workers. In response to a CTV report published on December 10 On the memo, the Ontario Hospital Association sent an email to management staff that emphasized the importance of vaccines. He continues to recommend that hospitals implement compulsory vaccination.

Even the idea of ​​allowing unvaccinated workers to re-enter the healthcare system during a pandemic should sound alarm bells that employee retention issues have reached a critical stage, Bourgeault said.

“What exacerbates this problem…as issues of poor pay, feeling that you are not recognized for the work you do, not having collective bargaining rights,” he said. she stated.

Plus, as wait times increase and patients become frustrated, those feelings eventually trickle down to healthcare workers, she said.

While staffing issues were an issue before the pandemic, worker burnout and concerns about pay and salary have only worsened since 2020, she said.

A study of Statistics Canada released in June found that 92% of nurses reported feeling more stressed at work between September 2021 and November 2021.

Nurses were also more likely to report that they intended to change or leave their current job within the next three years. Vacancies for the fourth quarter of 2021 indicated that there were 126,000 open positions in the health and social care sectors, the report said.

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, told CTV National News last week competitive compensation and workloads that will allow nurses to provide the care they are trained to deliver and want to provide.

“We have a really vicious situation here that we need to turn around,” Bourgeault said.


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