Despite Premier Doug Ford stating the Ontario government would not make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for hospital workers, the North Bay Regional Health Centre is sticking with its initial prognosis on the matter.
According to Director of Communications Kim McElroy, "Ford’s decision does not change anything with our NBRHC Vaccine Policy — in accordance with Directive #6, our policy remains in place."
Ford stated Wednesday hospitals are safe and can manage outbreaks thanks to elevated vaccination rates in hospitals and strong infection control measures. He noted less than five per cent of Ontario's 141 hospitals have an active COVID-19 outbreak.
"Having looked at the evidence, our government has decided to maintain its flexible approach by leaving human resourcing decisions up to individual hospitals," he said.
Ford also gave a nod to surgery cancellations in British Columbia due to staff shortages related to vaccine mandates.
"This is a complex issue. But when the impact of the potential departure of tens of thousands of health care workers is weighed against the small number of outbreaks that are currently active in Ontario's hospitals, I am not prepared to jeopardize the delivery of care to millions of Ontarians."
Eleven staff members have been terminated from NBRHC for non-compliance, the first 10 came in the immediate aftermath of the policy's enactment with just one in the ensuing weeks.
NBRHC maintains its policy follows guidance from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health in the form of Directive #6, stating many health care workers in higher-risk settings remain unvaccinated, "posing risks to patients and health care system capacity due to the potential (re)introduction of COVID-19 in those settings, placing both health care workers and patients at risk due to COVID-19 infection."
In early October, NBRHC implemented and ensured compliance with a COVID-19 vaccination policy for its employees, staff, contractors, volunteers and students. Initially, NBRHC estimated 40 non-compliant employees were on a path to dismissal. Options for compliance for hospital staff include providing proof of full vaccination, written proof of medical contraindication, or participation in weekly rapid antigen testing.
NBRHC President and CEO Paul Heinrich took a firm stance on the hospital's policy following the first series of terminations, saying he felt "quite bad for those who made a very poor choice," but those former employees left the administration with no choice but to begin handing out termination notices after their refusal to comply despite a multi-step vaccination education program and disciplinary warning process.