Just under 2,000 workers in B.C. care homes and assisted living facilities have been pushed onto unpaid leave starting Tuesday, as the province’s vaccine mandate for seniors care workers goes into effect.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday they have collected data from 542 of the 546 care homes in B.C.
Across all the facilities in both long term care and assisted living there are 48,879 employees, and 46,924 of whom have received at least their first dose.
There are now 1,955 employees who have not started their vaccination process, about 5% of the workforce.
“We have gone through plans to care home by care home to ensure that we're ready for, especially this first week of transition because these are the first shifts where the provincial health order will be in effect and people who are not yet vaccinated will be entirely excluded,” Dix said.
He said a “significant number” of the unvaccinated care home staff are casual employees and they are “pleased” with vaccination rates where they are in the sector right now — 96% in long term care and 97% in assisted living.
According to the Ministry of Health, 94% of workers in assisting living in Northern Health have so far been immunized. For long-term care, 89% of workers have been vaccinated. The number of workers affected by the new mandate and placed on leave was not immediately available.
Regardless, Dix said, “there is no question that this represents a challenge for us.”
He said there are about four care homes in B.C. that have staff vaccination rates below the 85% mark which have already received support from the province. Other care homes in Northern B.C., which is dealing with surging case counts, have also been supported.
Dix said the province and health authorities will be coordinating the movement of care home staff to support facilities struggling with staffing shortages due to the mandate. He likened the response to how staff were moved around during the second wave to support care homes swamped with outbreaks.
He said the province is now preparing for the more broad vaccine mandate for all healthcare workers, which will impact more than three times as many staff.
“That work is ongoing right now and that will be in terms of sheer volume of change, an even more significant challenge.”
The B.C. Care Providers Association has come out in support of the policy.
Visitors to seniors care homes now also need at least one dose, and must be fully immunized by Nov. 30.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said the mandate is required to protect those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.
— with Alaska Highway News files