Care homes in the B.C. Interior are struggling with staffing shortages after a handful of workers suddenly quit over B.C.’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all long-term and assisted living employees.
Hendrik Van Ryk, chief operating officer and vice-president of human resources at The Hamlets, said approximately 20 workers resigned or were placed on unpaid leave before the deadline on Oct. 12.
The biggest impact was at its Penticton and Kamloops locations, Van Ryk told Global News.
“They were placed on unpaid leave. A couple of them did actually resign prior to the deadline. They just simply said, ‘I am not going to get vaccinated, I am not going to stay in health care, I’ve left health care altogether,’ so that number was relatively small,” he said.
Van Ryk said some of his employees opted to find a new profession instead of getting immunized against COVID-19.
“They walked away from health care altogether,” he said.
“Most of them just simply didn’t want the government to tell them what to do. That was their reasoning for not getting the vaccine. They pushed back against that. The second reason was a fear of the vaccine, too new, hasn’t been around long enough.”
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Van Ryk said the long-term care and assisted living facilities it operates across B.C. are facing staff shortages, but said it is a “crisis” that has been ongoing for years.
“This pandemic has exacerbated the issue, and mandatory vaccinations adds that one more bit of anxiety on everybody’s minds,” he said.
“We don’t have consistency in staff so we are using agencies, we are having staff that has to work overtime, double shifts are a regular occurrence now, so we have tired staff, we are noticing increased illness due to the added number of shifts and hours that our team has to work.”
Van Ryk said the quality of care is declining as residential care workers are stretched thin.
“I would suggest that the bedside care is declining, not just with us, but across the board, based on people being tired and short-staffed.”
He gave an example of fewer baths, less time getting residents up and moving around, and a reduction of one-on-one time with dementia patients as an example.
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Van Ryk said The Hamlets reached out to the Interior Health Authority (IHA) in advance of the vaccine mandate taking effect, but health officials offered little support.
“We did speak to them a number of weeks ago and said, ‘Hey, this is coming, are you going to be able to provide support?’ And the simple answer was ‘no’, they are struggling themselves with staffing,” he said.
Interior Health declined to comment and referred Global Okanagan to B.C.’s Ministry of Health, which has not responded to a request for comment.
Almost 2,000 long-term care and assisted living staff were unvaccinated in British Columbia prior to the mandate taking effect, the province said.
B.C. eased the requirements saying staff either need to be fully vaccinated or to have had a single dose at least seven days before the deadline and take increased COVID-19 precautions.
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The deadline extension reflects a need to ensure staffing and care remain sufficient and to support staff to get vaccinated in a timely way, Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
All care providers have submitted staffing plans to the province to manage what could be a significant portion of the workforce absent or turning over in the coming weeks, Henry said on Oct. 6.
Only medical exemptions will be allowed, and those people will be required to take enhanced precautions, Henry said.
All applications are reviewed by her office individually and workers can continue to work while they are being assessed.
The changes also require visitors to long-term care and assisted living to be fully vaccinated starting Oct. 12 and those visiting in acute care by Oct. 26, with some exceptions for end-of-life and palliative care.
The Delta variant has hit long-term care residents particularly hard recently, with most outbreaks started by unvaccinated staff and visitors, Henry said.
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The changes will protect residents and their families, particularly as hospitals are put under increasing stress.
Long-term care residents have also begun to receive booster third doses of vaccine six months after their second shots to maximize their immune response and protection from serious illness.
The province will require anyone hired to work in long-term care and assisted living between Oct. 12 and Nov. 30 to have at least a single dose seven days before starting work, and receive their second dose within 35 days.
— with files from Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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