Eastern Townships health authority cutting services despite vaccine mandate extension

The health authority in the Eastern Townships is sounding the alarm. Officials say they could be short 1,700 staff once the province’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for health-care workers kicks in next month.

Officials expect at least 1,700 workers may still not be vaccinated by new Nov. 15 deadline

The CIUSSS de l'Estrie-CHUS held a press conference on Friday to expose the dire staffing situation it is experiencing. (André Vuillemin/Radio-Canada)

The health authority in Quebec's Eastern Townships expects it will still be short at least 1,700 staff members once the province's mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for health-care workers kicks in next month.

The health authority had about 1,000 vacant positions to fill before the vaccine mandate was announced. Another approximately 1,000 health care workers have yet to get their vaccines. 

Yann Belzile, human resources director at the CIUSSS de l'Estrie-CHUS, expects that about a third of the unvaccinated staff might get their shots before the new deadline.

He told reporters Friday that he didn't think the government's one-month extension would be sufficient to motivate the remaining two-thirds to get immunized.

"You see it very well, there will once again be a very important staffing shortage issue," he said. 

The Eastern Townships health authority said it estimated that it would be short by nearly 2,000 employees even with Quebec expanding its mandatory vaccination policy for health-care workers by one month. (André Vuillemin/Radio-Canada)

As a result, the health authority is already starting to shut down some of its services immediately.

Obstetrics services at the hospital in Lac-Mégantic will be closed on weekends, with the exception of emergencies. Expecting parents there will have to drive 90 minutes to Sherbrooke or even longer to the Chaudière-Appalaches region to give birth during those days.

Hospitals in the Eastern Townships region are already performing surgeries at only 70 per cent their capacity due to the shortage. 

Earlier this month, the health authority reduced the hours of the emergency rooms in Coaticook and Windsor, Que. 

"We are very conscious that many of you have been waiting for a long time to receive services at different levels," said the health authority's president and director general Stéphane Tremblay on Friday.

"Despite our desire to reverse our decisions, we don't have the capacity," he said about the existing cuts. 

Tremblay warned that more services could be disrupted if the situation doesn't improve in the coming months.

Should staff need to be shuffled around, he said emergency services, urgent surgeries and long-term care home services would be prioritized.

With files from Radio-Canada's Katy Larouche


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