158 hospital workers in Waterloo region could be fired for not having COVID-19 shots

Hospitals in Waterloo region expect to terminate up to 158 people for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine, according to figures released Tuesday.

'We would love for them to come back,' Cambridge Memorial CEO says

The three hospitals in Waterloo region say there's a total of 158 people who are expected to be fired for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hospitals in Waterloo region say they expect to fire up to 158 people Tuesday for not getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

The terminations would represent about two per cent of the three hospitals' over 7,900 employees, which means the overwhelming majority of workers chose to get vaccinated, hospital officials said. 

"Although we had hoped that all staff would choose vaccination, it is a personal decision and [we] respect their choice," St. Mary's General Hospital president Lee Fairclough said in a release Tuesday.

The breakdown of staff not following the vaccine mandate are as follows: 

  • 92 staff at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener.
  • 44 staff at Cambridge Memorial Hospital.
  • 22 staff at St. Mary's General Hospital in Kitchener.

Staff not following the vaccine policy were placed on unpaid leave on Oct. 12.

St. Mary's General Hospital said the staff had their employment terminated as of Tuesday.

Grand River Hospital said the employment status of unvaccinated employees will now "be reviewed." Similarly, at Cambridge Memorial Hospital, a spokesperson said "meetings have been scheduled to review their employment status."

Patrick Gaskin, president and CEO of Cambridge Memorial Hospital, says even if the number of people being laid off is small, those part-time and casual workers will be missed. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Clinical services won't be affected: Cambridge hospital CEO

Clinical services at Cambridge Memorial Hospital should not be affected by the terminations, CEO Patrick Gaskin said Monday. 

He said the majority of employees who had been on unpaid level were part-time or casual workers. 

"None of our medical professional staff, none of our midwives are in that group — all of them are fully vaccinated," he said.

Listen | Cambridge Memorial Hospital president and CEO Patrick Gaskin on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition talks about what the hospital system is like right now and what it's expecting to see in the coming months with flu season ahead.

A spokesperson for St. Mary's General also said they have "implemented strategies to limit any potential impact" on patients.

At Grand River Hospital, a spokesperson said, "there may be some short-term slow down of service in very few areas."

"We have reverted back to accommodating our historical patient volumes instead of the increased volumes we were accommodating [during the pandemic]. We have actions in place to increase our capacity, beyond our historical patient volumes, by end of the fiscal year at the latest," the spokesperson said.

'We would love for them to come back'

Gaskin said even if the number of people being laid off is small, those part-time and casual workers will be missed.

"They're people who have cared for our community and worked side-by-side with our staff within the organization — and we would love for them to come back," he said.

"But first and foremost, we have to keep the environment safe. We've seen the devastation of outbreaks; we've seen what that has done. We've seen staff-to-staff transmission," he added. "We have to do everything possible as a hospital and as a community to minimize that."

Fairclough echoed Gaskin, saying the move to get staff vaccinated has been a "gradual process since September with many milestones, education and resources" provided.

No change to vaccine mandate

All local hospitals in the region have kept a vaccine mandate, a decision made after the premier announced the province would not implement a vaccine mandate for health-care workers 

That decision is one that Gaskin said he's received a lot of support about from staff.

"It was my most replied [to] email ever," he said. "People thanking me and our organization for holding the line on it, [and] wanting to work side-by-side with with colleagues who are safe."

Dianne Martin, CEO of the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario, agrees that the vaccine mandates may have actually kept some people on the job.

"The loss of staff since the vaccine mandate ... is a very, very small percentage of staff," Martin said. "In fact, I think we don't even talk enough about how many nurses are retained by the mandate, feeling safer and wanting to go to work."

Return to normal at hospitals

While COVID-19 cases have risen in the past week in Waterloo region, Gaskin said hospitalizations have been stable. As of Tuesday, 12 people diagnosed with COVID-19 are in one of the region's three hospitals; there are four people in the intensive care units.

Cambridge Memorial is not quite at pre-COVID levels in terms of surgeries being offered, but some of that is due to staffing shortages from retirements, Gaskin said.

"We're running at about 80 per cent of our operating rooms, full service in our diagnostic imaging and our other outpatient services for that. Everyone's trying to get back to business as usual or do more to deal with the backlog. And we're committed, as the other hospitals are, to addressing that backlog."

But on top of ramping up services, frontline health-care workers are also preparing for flu season.

Gaskin said it's expected there will be added pressure on hospitals again over the winter months. He encouraged people to get the flu shot to help minimize the impact on local hospitals.

He also noted hundreds of staff members at the hospital have already gotten their flu vaccination or have signed up for it, he said.

"It's nice to see our staff leading the way for the community in terms of the flu vaccination."


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