Ontario's Registered Nurses' Association (RNAO) said it is "deeply disappointed" that Premier Doug Ford is backing off on a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all professional health care workers.
In a statement released Nov. 3, Ford said it was a "complex issue" and said his decision not to mandate avoids a situation that could lead to staff shortages in hospitals. Ford told Toronto reporters that he would leave the decision up to individual hospitals.
Last week, Health Sciences North (HSN) in Sudbury, the largest hospital in northern Ontario, announced all its professional health care staff would need to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 7, with a few exceptions, or they would face termination.
At the North Bay Regional Health Centre, as of last week, 11 employees had already been fired due to non-compliance with its mandatory vaccination policy.
NBRHC Director of Communications Kim McElroy, told BayToday, "Ford’s decision does not change anything with our NBRHC Vaccine Policy — in accordance with Directive #6, our policy remains in place."
The RNAO accused Ford of being afraid to do what was right for the province.
"This decision by Premier Ford is a disgrace and shows a lack of courage to do what's right for Ontario's patients and workers. To not implement a province-wide vaccination policy for all health care workers puts the burden unfairly on employers and imposes a risk of infection on Ontarians receiving health services," said RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun.
"The majority of hospital CEOs have already weighed in and provided their support for mandatory vaccination for health-care workers. To not act immediately and go against the evidence is irresponsible," continued Grinspun.
RNAO also said the premier's decision is an example of mismanagement. The nurses' group referred to Ford's own long-term care minister, Rod Phillips, who announced, Oct. 1, vaccinations for all nursing home staff would be required by Nov. 15.
"The premier supported this call, as did RNAO," said Grinspun. She added that RNAO has been calling for mandatory vaccinations for all health care workers since July.
Grinspun said it was upsetting that several large Ontario hospitals have already announced vaccine mandates but the premier would not endorse the move with a province-wide law.
Similar to NBRHC, nurses and other health care workers at HSN in Sudbury have been told the hospital "is implementing a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for all employees (including employees for contracted services), credentialed professional staff, active volunteers (including Board members) and learners. This direction was unanimously approved on October 27 by the HSN Board of Directors, upon recommendation from the CEO and the Chief of Staff, and supported by the Senior Leadership Committee, Medical Advisory Committee and our COVID-19 Incident Command team," according to a statement released from the hospital.