But Barbara Adams admitted that while mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for long-term care staff – as some other provinces have done – is an option, it is “the most dramatic measure that has been taken. can take ”. “I understand why individual provinces that have different COVID-19 infection rates are going to make potentially different decisions than we do,” Adams said in an interview Monday.
“We’ve been a relatively safe province, so we’re looking at the epidemiology we have here and the rate of infection we currently have in the province, and our political team is looking at all the options. “
Adams said she met last week with Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, and that the immunization policy team would develop recommendations to present to Premier Tim Houston.
Quebec had demanded that all healthcare workers be fully immunized by October 15. In British Columbia, a similar mandate comes into effect on October 26.
Last week, a case of COVID-19 was confirmed in a staff member at Northwood, which experienced the largest outbreak of the disease in Nova Scotia when the pandemic began in early 2020, including 53 deaths.
Northwood CEO Janet Simm said the case was identified through routine testing at the facility and contact tracing protocols have been completed. No other staff or resident has tested positive.
She could not confirm whether the worker had been vaccinated for confidentiality reasons. But she noted that 88 percent of the facility’s 400 staff are fully immunized.
Simm said making vaccinations mandatory for workers at long-term care facilities would create staffing issues at Northwood.
“At this point, we will continue with our precautions and protocols as we have put them in place and we will assess the evidence of the vaccination policy when it is released on October 4,” Simm said in an interview.
“We are working with a very vulnerable population, so we believe that we are one of the places and programs that should continue to have heightened precautions… We certainly do not intend to reduce our masking, [personal protective equipment], screening or testing protocols at this stage. “
Households already struggling with personnel problems
Michele Lowe, executive director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, agreed that requiring long-term care workers to be vaccinated would create significant gaps in the workforce.
She said a recent survey of its members showed that if vaccines were mandatory, unvaccinated workers would leave their jobs and find work elsewhere.
Lowe said if the government requires long-term care workers to be vaccinated, the mandate should apply to all healthcare workers in the province.
“We already have a significant problem with long-term care workforce availability, and even… if we were to lose 10 staff in a 100-bed nursing home, that’s a huge amount. large number of staff that would impact planning and ultimately service delivery, ”she said. .
“We cannot afford to have one of our staff leave long-term care for other health facilities that do not require vaccination. “
Booster vaccines under discussion
When it comes to requiring visitors to long-term care homes to have proof of vaccination, Lowe said it’s a much different scenario than being denied service in a restaurant, for example, because of the emotions involved.
“We need to have a lot of talk about what this is going to look like. If we have to start turning people away, it’s just unfair to everyone and that’s going to make it a very difficult situation, ”Lowe said.
She also said discussions were underway about the possibility of offering booster shots to long-term care residents, and an appeal about this was scheduled for Tuesday between public health and facilities across the province.
Simm said Northwood continues to encourage its workers to get vaccinated and offers on-site vaccination clinics.
“I think Northwood is living proof that vaccines work and that we are able to protect the vulnerable population despite the increasing number of cases in our community around us,” she said.
The province reported 55 new cases of COVID-19 over Friday and the weekend, bringing the number of active cases to 129.