Fourteen unvaccinated Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) employees who refused to follow a provincial directive to be tested for COVID-19 two times per week have been terminated.
Another 45 employees, 23 of them nurses, who have not complied with the Barrie hospital's vaccination policy have been placed on leaves of absence.
In addition, four physicians tied to the Barrie hospital and who are considered credential staff have also been placed on an involuntary leave of absence.
“As of Oct. 8, which was last Friday, any unvaccinated staff or members of our credential staff were placed on unpaid leave of absence,” said RVH president and CEO Janice Skot. “They have from Oct. 8 until Oct 31 to become fully vaccinated or they will face termination… or elimination of their privileges if they’re members of our professional staff.”
Skot also said "Team RVH" is 99 per cent fully vaccinated.
The hospital has 3,057 employees along with nearly 500 physicians, dentists and midwives.
Skot says the policy has been effective in helping people understand the importance of the vaccine and as a way of ensuring the staff and patients remain safe.
The disciplinary measures began Thursday with the 14 terminations of largely part-time or casual staff who would not follow the provincial testing directive.
“They were unvaccinated and they were not following with the provincial directive No. 6 to be tested twice a week,” Skot said. “In the process, though, there were verbal warnings, there were written warnings, and there were opportunities for education.”
On Friday, the 45 employees who did not follow the RVH vaccination requirement were then placed on an unpaid leave of absence. The time off, Skot said, will give them the opportunity to reflect and receive more education to decide if they want to be in compliance by Oct. 31.
Skot says she believes there will be no service disruptions as a result of the terminations. Other casual employees may fill the gaps. In addition, RVH is hiring an additional 83 employees and a condition of employment is COVID-19 vaccination.
“We are hiring, we’re orienting, we’re getting ready and we are confident that we will be able to provide services that this community and region expects from us,” she said.
Skot says she's positive that the number of those placed on leaves of absence will come down before Oct. 31.
“I know this is difficult and I honestly didn’t want to lose anyone, but we have to really make sure we’re a safe place to work,” she said, adding that many patients are immunocompromised.
She said she hopes those who were placed on leave will eventually be vaccinated and return to work.
“Our human resources department is working with each and every individual to ensure we can bring everyone in line to be 100 per cent vaccinated," Skot said.
The Barrie hospital’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy was implemented at the beginning of September and had been rolled out in a multi-stage process.
The province of Ontario also implemented a directive requiring unvaccinated staff to be tested twice per week. Testing began Sept. 9, with subsequent testing on Mondays and Thursdays for all staff who don’t show proof of double vaccination.
After three letters, the hospital then issued a written warning for those who didn’t show up for testing.
There are medical exemptions and the ability for people to make a claim for accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code. For those people, twice-weekly testing will continue.