Ontario LTCs worried about approaching recall warrant deadline amid Omicron surge

Most long-term care workers in Ontario have just under two weeks to receive their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but unions and industry groups say it takes longer to reach the government’s target as staff infections hit record levels and workers struggle to get to appointments.

The government has imposed booster doses on workers in the sector, citing the heightened risk to vulnerable residents living in homes that saw thousands of deaths and outbreaks earlier in the pandemic.

Workers, volunteers and students have until January 28 to get their third shot and stay on the job, if enough time has passed since their second dose. People who became eligible for boosters after January 1 have until March 14 to get a third shot, and those who have recently been infected with COVID-19 will also have more time to get vaccinated.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care says the majority of staff are currently eligible for a third dose. As of January 12, nearly 64% of those people had already received a third dose, a spokesperson said on Friday, adding that “the expectation remains that eligible staff will receive a third dose by January 28.”

But with the Omicron variant driving outbreaks, worker absences and staff infections to record numbers, those inside say the target – while important for protecting residents – will be nearly impossible to hit in time. throughout the sector.

“We should aim to do it on the 28th, but understanding the circumstances of each of these homes,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, a union representing long-term care workers in the province. “It really depends on individual houses and circumstances at the moment.”

She said it would make sense to extend the approaching deadline on a case-by-case basis, especially as workers grapple with intense workloads due to staffing shortages, which predate the pandemic but which worsened during the Omicron wave.

“Right now, everything in the lives of these frontline workers is a challenge,” she said.

Home-run clinics would help get more people vaccinated faster, Stewart said — something that happens in some places, but not across the province. It has also become difficult for people to make appointments outside of work, now that all adults in the province are eligible for callbacks and clinics prioritizing education workers and children before schools reopen. schools on Monday.

Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, a union representing the province’s long-term care workers, said: ‘Right now, everything in the lives of these frontline workers is a challenge. (Provided)

Lisa Levin, CEO of AdvantAge Ontario, which represents municipal and not-for-profit long-term care homes, said there have been “quite a few hurdles” in meeting the Jan. 28 deadline for booster shots.

“A lot of homes won’t be able to respond to it and hopefully the department can delay it,” Levin said in an interview on Friday.

Hesitation is also a problem, she noted, with some people unwilling to mix vaccine types, and others being blindsided by the new requirement to get three doses that was announced in late December, a few weeks after the mandatory two-dose rule comes into effect.

“People who hesitate, it’s a tough decision for them, and they’ve had to potentially do it once, then twice, then they have to do it a third time,” she said. “Eventually some of them just say forget about it.”

She also noted that because Ontario hasn’t made vaccines mandatory for any other sector, some people may choose to go work elsewhere in the healthcare system rather than meet the third dose deadline.

Looming deadline is tough, says union president

The president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, an arm of the public sector employees union, said he also thinks the looming deadline will be difficult to meet given the current pandemic situation.

“Pulling back the deadline, I think, would make a lot of sense,” said Michael Hurley.

He said the stress experienced by workers over the past two years should also be taken into consideration with less rigid deadlines and on-site access to vaccines.

Hurley also pointed to the need for more guaranteed sick days so people can take time off if they have side effects.

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association also acknowledged that “there may be challenges” for all staff to meet the January 28 deadline, as so many workers have been infected and others cannot access timely appointments in their regions.

CEO Donna Duncan said homes and health system partners were working on “regional solutions” to improve access to third doses, including some hospitals inviting long-term care staff to their on-site clinics.

Doctor says deadline important to protect residents

Dr. Peter Juni, research director for the Ontario Science Advisory Table on COVID-19, said that while the situation is difficult, the lead time is important so that residents are protected while Omicron is at its most widespread and most dangerous.

“It’s not something we would need three months from now. It’s really in the middle of this crisis,” he said.

A Friday memo to operators from the Associate Minister for Long-Term Care clarified the scope for extensions that will be done individually, not sector-wide.

Erin Hannah wrote that homes can request seven-day extensions on a “case-by-case basis” for people in extenuating circumstances, with the possibility of repeat extensions for the same person.

Examples of such circumstances included the inability to get an appointment for a vaccine, the cancellation of a workplace clinic due to an epidemic, if an 18-29 year old is waiting for the third dose of Pfizer as recommended by the Ministry of Health, or if a person was recently infected with COVID-19.

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