Hamilton Health Sciences fires 138 workers for refusing to be fully vaccinated

A hospital network in Hamilton has fired 138 workers because they refused to get fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

HHS said over 60% of fired staff were part-time, while St. Joe's set to fire staff without 2 doses on Feb. 21

Hamilton Health Sciences is dismissing 138 workers who haven't gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

A hospital network in Hamilton has fired 138 workers because they refused to get fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) made the announcement Thursday after giving employees months to get immunized.

"If you are relying on some manufactured and frankly simplistic legal argument about your individual right to work for a hospital while unvaccinated, you need to stop being so self absorbed and start thinking about your duty to our patients, to your fellow workers and to our community," HHS president Rob MacIsaac said during a Oct. 7 staff town hall.

The recent firings also comes after HHS already fired 40 people earlier for not reporting their vaccination status and flouting testing requirements.

The hospital network said the fired workers worked in clinical and non-clinical roles and more than 60 per cent were part-time employees.

"The impact of their departure has been planned for in order to minimize any disruption to hospital services," HHS said in a media release.

HHS said some 98 per cent of its workforce is fully vaccinated.

The firings come as hospitals across Ontario are dealing with staffing shortages.

In local hospitals, shortages were getting so bad there were plans in place to potentially allow COVID-positive staff to work, put patients in "unconventional spaces" like hallways and sun rooms and close regional programs.

Niagara's hospital network paused its staff vaccine mandate because of those shortages.

HHS recently started allowing staff who had COVID-19 to return to work sooner than 10 days.

It's a move other hospital networks have taken too, leading health-care unions to put out a call on the province Thursday to stop the practice, claiming it could pose risks to people's health.

St. Joe's to fire staff without 2 doses in February

Still, there are more firings to come in local hospitals.

Hamilton's other hospital network, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, is also set to fire staff who aren't fully vaccinated on Feb. 21.

In early December, some 97 per cent of staff and physicians at St. Joe's were fully vaccinated.

The City of Hamilton, meanwhile, is giving staff until May 31, 2022 to provide proof of their full vaccination status. The city said this month that about 93 per cent had shown proof of their vaccination status, while 474 employees haven't provided proof of both doses. 

Sixty-eight employees have been placed on an unpaid leave of absence for refusing to disclose their vaccination status or participate in rapid testing, the city said. 

Mohawk College and McMaster University have similar mandates.