Manitoba

No big staffing holes at southern Manitoba care homes as worker vaccine deadlines kick in

About 30 direct-care health workers were turned away when they arrived at work on Monday for not being vaccinated or refusing to comply with COVID-19 testing on the first day those mandates took effect, according to the province.

Family relieved worst-case scenario averted, at least on day 1, at Morden facility where 94-year-old mom lives

Velda Currie, 94, left, and her daughter Allyson Currie. Velda has lived at Tabor Home in Morden for two years. It was one of at least three facilities in the region that informed families last week of a possible staffing shortage this week when worker vaccine requirement deadlines took effect. (Submitted by Allyson Currie)

About 30 direct-care health workers were turned away from their jobs on Monday for not being vaccinated or refusing to comply with COVID-19 testing on the first day those mandates took effect, according to the province.

Allyson Currie's family is relieved staffing levels remained steady at Tabor Home in Morden where her 94-year-old mother Velda Currie lives.

Tabor Home was one of at least three care homes in Morden, Winkler and Altona that outlined a worst-case scenario for families last week. Should the facilities experience shortages once vaccine requirements for personal care home workers took effect on Oct. 18, loved ones were asked to consider coming in to care for residents or pull them out entirely.

"The first word that came to mind was, 'alarming.' I thought, really, is this true?" said Allyson.

"The most concerning part was how are we going to do this, and how safe was it going to be for mom…. She's here because we can't look after her."

Allyson lives in Winnipeg but made the trip to visit her mother on Monday, just in case. Staffing levels appeared normal and the environment seemed as calm and nice as usual, she said.

Tabor Home, Salem Home and the Southern Health Region confirmed "appropriate staffing levels" were sustained at those places Monday.

"These efforts will continue to ensure staff are redeployed to support areas that may need some additional help," reads the joint statement.

About 42,000 direct-care health staff who work with patients, residents and clients needed to be doubly-vaccinated by Monday or submit to COVID-19 testing every 48 hours. 

Shared Health, the organization that co-ordinates health-care service delivery in the province, said nearly 29,400 workers have been verified as vaccinated so far. Another 7,000 workers have submitted that they too are immunized, but the verification process continues.

As of Friday, about 1,800 workers were identified as unvaccinated and requiring testing.

Vaccination deadline for care home workers kicks in

7 months ago
Duration 3:20
The vaccination deadline for health-care, personal care home and other public service employees kicked in on Monday.

Shared Health says those who refused the testing accommodation would be suspended without pay. 

That includes at least 30 direct-care employees province-wide who were sent home from work as of Monday afternoon. That figure could change through the week.

Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon said those 30 workers reside throughout the province. She said there weren't any "service interruptions or staffing challenges" Monday, though she confirmed the province had to backfill in places where this was anticipated.

Three care homes that raised those concerns last week are all located in or near some of the lowest vaccination-uptake areas in the province in Southern Health, the region with the lowest overall rates.

That includes Winkler health district, where rates stood at 43.1 per cent, and the district of Stanley, which surrounds the cities of Winkler and Morden, where rates were 25.1 per cent. Rates in neighbouring Altona health district were 53.4 per cent.

Some workers protest in Altona

The union that represents workers at Salem Home in Winkler and Tabor Home in Morden say there were no staff shortages on Monday.

In a letter to families on Monday, Tabor management said staffing is stable but they have temporarily extended hours for designated family caregivers just in case this week.

There were, however, staffing shortages at Eastview Place in Altona.

About nursing home staff sat outside their place of work in Altona on Monday, Eastview Place, on the first day workers are required to be vaccinated or submit to COVID-19 testing every 48 hours. (Samantha Samson/CBC)

CBC News spoke with eight such staff who gathered outside Eastview with signs suggesting their charter rights were being infringed on due to vaccine mandates, as well as mandatory testing.

None of the workers wanted to do an interview with CBC News. They said there's no privacy at the facility because testing for unvaccinated staff is happening at the entrance of the building where others can see.

They said they feel they're being discriminated against and forced out of their jobs.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission generally does not view vaccine mandates as infringing on rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said he feels for families with loved ones in the three southern care homes.

"They can't go and provide the services otherwise maybe they would be carrying for them at home already," he said.

Winkler Mayor Martin Harder is encouraging unvaccinated workers to at least submit to COVID-19 testing every 48 hours because 'we have so many loved ones ... that need them.' (Samantha Samson/CBC)

He is confident that no one at Salem Home in Winkler will go uncared for, be it by health-care workers or loved ones.

"My only concern is will that aggravate the risk by the volunteers coming in to step up to the plate," said Harder.

He attended a small rally over the weekend of unvaccinated health-care workers to connect with people. Many feared they were about to lose their jobs, said Harder.

'It's for their protection'

Harder said most against vaccines appeared to have firm convictions on the matter. Those opposed to testing seemed more upset by the inconvenience of it, he said.

Harder has struggled with what he considers a "two-tiered society that is being built" between vaccinated and unvaccinated Manitobans.

He also says those who choose not to be vaccinated still bear some responsibility to the community. 

Harder wants unvaccinated healthcare workers to go through with routine testing.

"I would just encourage them to make sure they don't walk of the jobs because we have so many loved ones that are in personal care homes, in hospitals, that need them," said Harder. "It's for their protection."

About 30 unvaccinated direct-care workers turned away from work after refusing testing as

7 months ago
Duration 2:12
About 30 unvaccinated direct-care health workers were turned away from their jobs on Monday for also refusing to be tested. Oct. 18 was the deadline for thousands of public employees to get vaccinated or submit to testing every 48 hours.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, climate, health and more. He has produced episodes for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Samantha Samson and Ian Froese

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