No changes in policy at local hospitals despite provincial announcement

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Pembroke – Despite an announcement by the province stipulating there will be no provincial COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, area hospitals are keeping in place their own vaccine mandates.

Last Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced he was not going to mandate COVID vaccinations for health care workers in Ontario, with the caveat that the individual hospitals could enact their own policies and at least three local hospitals are standing pat with the mandatory vaccine policy they currently have in effect.

The administrators from Pembroke Regional Hospital, Renfrew Victoria Hospital and St. Francis Memorial Hospital in Barry’s Bay said nothing has changed since the premier’s announcement and their current mandatory vaccination policies remain in place.   

Pierre Noel, CEO at Pembroke Regional Hospital (PRH), told the Leader Monday they had received a directive in late summer regarding vaccination policies, which he said was very helpful.

“It enabled us to ascertain from our work force who was vaccinated and who was not,” he explained. “That allowed us to work through the process of working with people to make sure that they’re vaccinated.

“We put in place a mandatory vaccination policy in early fall and made people aware of that,” he added. “Our vaccination rate is at about 98.5 percent and we’re dealing with less than 15 people, who are either not seeking a vaccine or are seeking a medical exemption or a human rights exemption.”

Mr. Noel said with that high a percentage vaccinated, he considers it a very successful effort at PRH.

“I think the most important thing is it gives our patients, our staff, physicians and volunteers comfort that it’s a safe environment for them to work in or, most importantly, to receive care in, because the most vulnerable people in our community are those who are seeking care at the acute care hospital,” he noted.

Mr. Noel said he was very proud of everyone for doing “the right thing” and protecting their fellow workers and people in the community.

“It’s been a great effort,” he remarked. “We’re sorry there’s a few people, a handful of people, that are non-compliant, sometimes for good reason, sometimes for other reasons. And we’re working with everybody to make sure that if they want to work in healthcare that they get vaccinated and stay on board.”

Mr. Noel said Premier Ford’s announcement last week was for health care workers in general, which included hospitals, adding there is a separate mandatory vaccination policy in place in long-term care facilities.

“That’s the only healthcare environment where it’s provincially mandated,” he stated.

He said hospitals were under Directive #6 which required hospitals to have a vaccination policy in place by September 7, but it did not make vaccination mandatory and that was what was at issue last week, whether the province was going to make vaccination mandatory in hospitals or not.

“Upwards of 70 percent of hospitals in Ontario have a mandatory policy,” he remarked.

He said PRH has a mandatory policy as does every other hospital in the Champlain Region.

“All 20-plus hospitals work in collaboration with one another because we didn’t want unvaccinated workers moving from one place to another.”

Mr. Noel said workers who qualify under a medical exemption would continue to wear Personal Protective Equipment and test regularly.

Those who do not meet either medical or human rights exemptions, which he said is even more rare, are put on an unpaid leave of absence at PRH, which was effective October 15.       

No Changes at RVH or SFMH

Similar to PRH, last week’s announcement does not affect the current mandatory vaccination policy at Renfrew Victoria Hospital (RVH) or its sister hospital, St. Francis Memorial Hospital (SFMH) in Barry’s Bay.

 In a statement Monday, Julia Boudreau, the Chief Executive Officer of both RVH and SFMH announced the mandatory vaccine policy will remain in place at both facilities.

“Last week, the Ontario government announced that it would not make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for those working in health care,” she remarked. “Please be advised that this announcement does not affect the application of RVH’s (SFMH’s) vaccination policy.

Ms. Boudreau explained in accordance with Ontario’s Directive #6, and in conjunction with all regional hospitals, RVH had developed a vaccination policy to protect its staff and patients. “More than 120 hospitals in Ontario have also adopted mandatory vaccination policies, and we continue to work closely with them to remain aligned,” she said in her statement. “The policies were developed based on the best available science which has shown a reduction in COVID-19 incidence and mortality in long-term care residents and healthcare workers eight weeks after vaccination began.

“We still have the same obligations to patients and staff under the Health and Safety Act and the same health and safety considerations,” she continued. “All RVH staff, physicians, students, contractors and volunteers must be fully immunized against COVID-19 or have an approved exception.”

She explained fully immunized is defined as having a complete course of a World Health Organization-approved COVID-19 vaccine with the last dose at least 14 days ago.

“Anyone who does not meet these requirements will be placed on unpaid leave,” her statement concluded.