Windsor-Essex hospitals facing backlash for offering vaccine to managers and executives

The head of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit says ethical guidelines are being ignored in the distribution of the vaccine in the region.

An investigation should be done and people held accountable, says bioethicist

The health unit and a local bioethicist say top hospital executives should not be receiving the vaccine at this time. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The head doctor at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit is speaking out against hospital leadership being offered and receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

He says ethical guidelines and a priority list for who should receive the shot are being ignored, all while the vaccine is in short supply.  

Meanwhile, an Ontario bioethicist said the situation calls for an investigation. 

"I'm disturbed by the fact that, with the limited supply of the vaccine, we are throwing away the prioritization list and are completely ignoring the ethical framework that was provided to all of us," medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said Friday, though he didn't name any institutions or specific individuals. 

Vaccines shouldn't be available to health-care workers who just want the shot, Ahmed explained, adding that those at the front of the list to receive the vaccine have to be at high risk, and their function has to be critical.

Ahmed's comments come after controversy erupted when the PR executive of a local hospital posted about their vaccination on social media. A union president of workers in seniors' homes immediately spoke out about the incident and said members on the front-line were frustrated that they are left waiting. 

Since then more questions and concerns have arose about who in hospitals has been getting the shot. 

University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman agreed with Ahmed and said what has happened is a "significant violation" and deserves to be investigated.

"Not only is it a violation, but I would argue that it's going to erode public trust enormously when people see that the very protocols that we've struggled so much to adhere to —  the most vulnerable people —  is not even being followed," he said.

"This is a serious situation and should not be made light of in any way. It's absolutely an ethical problem, it's a problem of logistics and it's also a problem of professional practice — people should be held accountable for how this happened." 

Risk losing critical staff members

Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj said in an interview Thursday that hospital leadership should be vaccinated, specifically if they are critical to the operations of the organization. He added that though he has been offered the vaccine he will not be getting it until supply increases. 

University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman says there should be an investigation as to hospital leadership being offered and receiving the vaccine. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

At this time, he said some Windsor Regional leaders have gotten the shot as many of them are also on the front-line. 

In an updated statement Friday, Musyj said their vaccination plan "absolutely includes a priority to vaccinate willing staff from critical areas of our hospital. But this also includes many key leadership individuals who are in our facilities and in contact patients and colleagues." 

He continued to say they can't lose these essential staff members to the disease at a time when the hospital is struggling with volumes that are at or above capacity. 

"If these individuals came down with COVID-19, which unfortunately a couple have contracted COVID-19 at a great loss for an extended period of time, the first question we would be asked is, "why didn't you get them vaccinated?" his statement reads. 

"In the meantime, we continue to follow provincial guidelines when it comes to vaccinations and any other government directive just as we have since the beginning of this pandemic." 

Windsor Regional Hospital says frontline staff, nursing leaders and medical leaders are a priority. 

Erie Shores Healthcare hospital CEO Kristin Kennedy told CBC News in an emailed statement earlier this week that the vaccine was made available to her leadership team as they enter the hospital regularly and have contact with patients and frontline workers.

CBC News asked Windsor Regional Hospital about a possible investigation as well as Bowman's concerns on Friday, but hospital officials declined to comment further on their vaccination policies. 

CBC News has also reached out to Erie Shores Healthcare and Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare, but both organizations have yet to respond. 

Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj says the vaccine is available to top hospital leadership that are critical to the operation of the organization. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Bowman added that if local health officials are finding that people do not want to take the vaccine, then they should have a contingency plan on how they can access other vulnerable groups identified in phase 1. 

At Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare, the vaccine is available to all, including management. 

In Toronto, the University Health Network says only executives or senior leaders who work directly with COVID-19 patients or are working in long-term care homes that are in outbreak have received the vaccine. 

Senior leaders should not get vaccine: Ahmed

Ahmed said if senior leaders are getting the vaccine, that's "not right."

"We have heard complaints, concerns from other health-care workers [about] who's getting the vaccine when they don't even work with patients, or when their work with patients is minimal," he said.

Ahmed's comments came as the health unit announced 12 new deaths from the virus, bringing the region's death toll to 202.

"We know that every one of these people have families and friends that are mourning for them and my thoughts are with you," said the health unit's CEO and chief nursing officer Theresa Marentette.


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