New Brunswick

Worried for elderly mother, N.B. woman wants home-care workers mandated to get vaccine

For the sake of her 104-year-old mother, Melynda Jarratt wants the New Brunswick government to include home-care workers in its requirement that all provincial employees be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Home-care workers not part of province's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, says association overseeing them

Melynda Jarratt, right, said she's concerned her mother, Lucy Jarratt, will catch COVID-19 from one of the two unvaccinated home-care workers who provide support to her. (Submitted by Melynda Jarratt)

Melynda Jarratt's 104-year-old mother is vaccinated against COVID-19 and mostly confined to her home in Bathurst.

However, the possibility she'll catch and potentially die from the disease is something Jarratt said she worries about daily, as two of the home-care workers who attend to her mother throughout the week aren't vaccinated.

And there is no requirement they get vaccinated to keep working.

As of Nov. 19, all government employees will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or go on unpaid leave until they do so.

The mandate includes all provincial government employees in the civil service, the education system, the health-care system and Crown corporations, as well as staff in long-term care facilities, schools and licensed early learning and child-care facilities.

She has survived so much in 104 years and to get to the end of her life and to die of of a respiratory disease, which is completely, you know, avoidable — there's no excuse for that.- Melynda Jarratt

CBC News asked the provincial government whether home-care workers fall under the vaccine mandate, but did not receive a response before deadline.

According to the New Brunswick Home Support Association, however, home-care workers, even those whose salaries are subsidized by the province, don't fall under the mandate.

Jarratt thinks that should change.

"We're afraid my mother is going to contract COVID and die.

"She has survived so much in 104 years and to get to the end of her life and to die of of a respiratory disease, which is completely, you know, avoidable — there's no excuse for that."

Lucy Jarratt is 104 years old and has required home care for the past 15 years. She's pictured with her daughters, Melynda Jarratt, left, and Terri Jarratt. (Submitted by Melynda Jarratt)

Jarratt said her mother has dementia and has needed help being bathed, changed and going to the bathroom for the past 15 years.

When COVID-19 vaccines became available for staff working with vulnerable populations, Jarratt said she began to inquire with the home-care workers who visited her mother's house.

Jarratt said most of the regular workers, who are employed by Integrity Home Health Services, admitted to being vaccinated, but two home-care workers who typically fill in have said they don't plan on getting their shots.

Jarratt said one has said she would only get vaccinated if forced to, while the other has expressed conspiracy theories about the vaccine when asked about her vaccination status.

"My first thoughts about their vaccination status and their unwillingness to get vaccinated is that they're in the wrong job," Jarratt said. "They're in the wrong profession.

"If they really ... want to be caring for the elderly and disabled people or persons who are vulnerable, then they would do the right thing and get vaccinated."

Conflicting messaging on vaccine mandate

During a COVID-19 news conference last Thursday, Premier Blaine Higgs, when asked, said his understanding was that home-care workers fall under the province's vaccination mandate.

But the New Brunswick Home Support Association says that's not what it has been told.

The Department of Social Development, in a memo sent to the association on Sept. 22, said it strongly recommends agencies ensure staff providing direct in-home care to clients of Social Development have received two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine.

"Staff who are not fully vaccinated or who do not provide proof of vaccination must wear a mask at all times unless they provide their employer with valid medical exemption," the memo says.

The memo says agencies should also strongly consider initiating regular testing of unvaccinated staff and ensure any staff who test positive do not work with clients until they are no longer positive.

Darlene Hood, treasurer for the association, said that's the last direction the department has given regarding vaccination for home-care workers, and it's a position she said she's disappointed with.

"I think home-care is just as important as nursing home care and special care homes, so if they're mandated, then we should be mandated as well," Hood said.

Some agencies take steps

Hood said some home-care agencies have introduced their own vaccination mandates for employees, to match the one introduced by the province.

That's resulted in some employees resigning in disagreement over getting the vaccine, Hood said.

Hood said where she works, at Harvey Outreach for Seniors Inc., there's one employee who can't get vaccinated, and some clients are fine with that, while others aren't.

"So definitely there is a concern and you definitely have to listen to them."