Nova Scotia

Province prepares for staff shortages because of mandatory vaccine policy

Premier Tim Houston said contingency plans are in the works at hospitals and schools across Nova Scotia, as well as in government departments.

'That policy is coming forward and we'll lose people, and that's not a good thing,' says Premier Tim Houston

A digital vaccine record is shown on a cellphone in this file photo. Nova Scotia's vaccination mandate applies to more than 80,000 employees in the province, including those working in hospitals, schools, long-term care, corrections and child-care centres. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and some of his key cabinet ministers expect their government's decision to require all public sector workers to be vaccinated will mean hundreds of employees will be placed on leave before the end of the year.

People who draw a paycheque from the Nova Scotia government, including health workers, teachers, jail guards and other public sector workers, have less than two weeks to prove they've received their COVID-19 shots or are on their way to becoming fully vaccinated.

With the Nov. 30 deadline fast approaching, Houston said plans are in the works to deal with staff shortages.

"That policy is coming forward and we'll lose people, and that's not a good thing," Houston told reporters after a cabinet meeting Thursday.

"But in the interests of the public safety of Nova Scotians, we feel very confident that the policy is the correct policy."

Vaccination rates by sector

The provincial Health Department released figures Wednesday showing the percentage of employees who have already complied with the government's edict and those who still have not reported their vaccination status.

As of Nov. 16, the vaccination rates were:

  • IWK Health Centre: 99 per cent, with 99 per cent of employees reporting.
  • Long-term care: 93 per cent, with 89 per cent of employees reporting.
  • Nova Scotia Health: 94 per cent, with 88 per cent of employees reporting.
  • Emergency Health Services: 99 per cent, with 88 per cent of employees reporting.
  • Home care: 89 per cent, with 78 per cent of employee reporting.
  • Education: 97 per cent, with 75 per cent of employees reporting.

Education Minister Becky Druhan said she was "really pleased" with the number of school staff and support personnel who have received their shots.

"I think it shows that staff are taking this seriously and doing the right thing," she said.

The minister said there could be a number of reasons why 25 per cent of employees have not yet reported their status, including absences, but she noted there is still time for that information to be collected.

Druhan acknowledged the vaccination requirement means some employees may not be able to work after Nov. 30. She said contingency plans are being made "to deal with any issues that arise as a result of that."

'There's no easy answer'

Her cabinet colleagues responsible for health and long-term care offered similar reassurances, despite ongoing staff shortages in hospitals and care facilities.

"We know that there will be some loss in the system, but there will also be significant disruption as well if we have outbreaks as we've seen, or if we have a number of health-care workers that are sick as a result of COVID," said Health Minister Michelle Thompson.

"It's difficult. There's no easy answer, but I know that the system has been agile before and we have to work through what's put in front of us."

Minister confident staff will be found

Long-Term Care Minister Barbara Adams said department officials have been speaking with all 133 care homes in the province to assess their needs and come up with contingency plans. Some sites have already ceased admissions, said Adams.

"Some are needing casual staff, others are going to need nurses brought in from other provinces," she said. "Some need sitters to sit with someone with dementia, so each nursing home has a different strategy that they need."

Asked if the province would be able to find the help it needs given Canada-wide shortages, the minister responded: "We are confident that we will have the staff to come."

Speaking to reporters Thursday, NDP Leader Gary Burrill urged the PC government to make contingency plans public.

"I think it's incumbent upon the government ... to make clear where it is they think we're going to be, what their plan is for those shortfalls in personnel, and what their plan is to see that services are able to continue to be provided," he said.