Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination at Barrie's Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) is necessary as the pandemic’s fourth wave takes hold, says hospital president and CEO Janice Skot.
The policy, announced Tuesday, affects all employees and anyone who does business at the Barrie hospital — or more than 4,400 people.
“We are in wave four (of the pandemic), we know that the majority of people who are contacting the delta variant, which is highly transmissible, are unvaccinated people,” Skot said in an interview Wednesday with BarrieToday. “Of those who are getting sick, and also requiring critical care, the vast majority of those are unvaccinated people.
“So the only way we’re going to get through this wave four is if we try to maximize the people who are vaccinated," she added.
The RVH vaccination policy applies to all health-centre employees, including those who’ve been working remotely during the pandemic, credentialed staff, students, contractors and vendors. They must be double-vaccinated by Oct. 31, 2021 — unless they have been granted a medical exemption or accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
RVH is one of the city’s largest employers and its employers were notified of the vaccination policy by e-mail on Tuesday.
Officials at the Barrie hospital say 80 per cent of staff and physicians who have declared their status say they have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But RVH says it wants to ensure it can achieve 100 per cent vaccination status across the hospital.
Anyone who chooses to remain unvaccinated after Oct. 31 will be subject to "progressive policies," including unpaid leave and termination for cause, ending of learner placement, and restriction, suspension or termination of privileges for credentialed staff.
Volunteers must be fully vaccinated before returning to their roles at RVH.
“We have two months here,” Skot said. “We’re going to work with everyone to reach our goal of 100 per cent vaccination, but if at the end of the day on Oct. 31 employees or credentialed staff are still electing not to be vaccinated, then there are certainly more severe consequences for that.
“So that’s not our goal. Our goal is 100 per cent vaccination," she said.
RVH chief of staff Dr. Jeff Tyberg said he supports the vaccination policy.
“It’s necessary now for many reasons, but key is — especially in view of the delta variant — we need to be sure that we’re protecting our patients, many of whom are vulnerable or immune-compromised patients,” he said. “We need to protect our colleagues, protect other staff members, visitors and our community in general.
“We really have a responsibility to provide an environment that’s safe for our patients, staff and visitors. The way to do that is by having our staff vaccinated with a vaccine that we know is safe and effective," he added.
“This is just one more way that we have to provide safe care."
Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, also agreed with RVH’s vaccination policy and its goal.
“I think it's necessary they have a strong policy with that goal," Gardner said of the 100 per cent vaccination goal. “The hospital environment and everyone in the environment is at high risk of transmission. Hospitals have a duty of care to protect their patients and I believe this degree of protection, this requirement for vaccination, a goal to have 100 per cent vaccinated... is an important goal.
“It's commendable that they're committing to that and they obviously will need to work through with their staff and contractors and others to determine status and identify people for whom issues need to be worked through," he added.
In a news release last month, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare, which represents 850 RVH employees, also said it supports mandatory vaccinations.
“In a recent survey, a vast majority of our union members showed support for mandatory vaccinations as a matter of workplace safety,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare. “They told us that vaccinations mean knowing you’re protected and knowing that the person you’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with is protecting you.
“COVID-19 is a killer. The delta variant is even more deadly,” she added. “No senior should die because of this virus and not one more health-care worker should lose their life simply because they went to work.”
SEIU represents health-care and community service workers across Ontario. Union members work in hospitals, home care, nursing and retirement homes.
Skot says the hospital's mandatory vaccination policy also meets community expectations.
“Our community expects RVH to be there for them when they’re in need, so we have to ensure we keep all of Team RVH safe,” she said. “We’re not going to avoid the fourth wave, but certainly we know what happens to people who are not vaccinated.
“Patients… assume we’re very safe,” Skot said of RVH. “For that 80 per cent who have declared they are vaccinated, or are in the process of being vaccinated, they want to come to a safe work environment and they want to return to their families from a safe work environment.
“To those who are still contemplating vaccination, we want to work with all of these people,” she added. “We want to make sure that they’ve had an opportunity for education… so they can fully understand the implications for this. Our emphasis… has always been on really ensuring the people understand the benefits of the vaccination.”
RVH’s vaccination policy does not apply to paramedics, police officers and firefighters, Skot noted.
“We can only create policy for our own employees, our own credentialed staff, our own volunteers,” she said. “However, I do believe broader discussions are taking place with respect to those organizations… and certainly we will be sharing our policy and our approach with those organizations so they understand the importance of this for us.”
RVH also says it is joining the vast majority of hospitals throughout Ontario Health’s central region by implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for those employed by the hospital.
RVH has 3,342 employees, 471 physicians, dentists and midwives, and 614 volunteers.
The Ontario Medical Association (OMA), which represents doctors in the province, and the Ontario Nurses Association could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday by BarrieToday.
However, earlier this summer OMA officials said all health-care workers should be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves, their patients and the community.
“Vaccines are the best way to control the spread of COVID-19 and remain an essential component in protecting our patients, families and friends,” OMA president Dr. Adam Kassam said in a news release.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there are 372 patients overall at RVH, which is 86 per cent of its capacity.
— With files from Erika Engel