Mandatory vaccination raises concerns about staffing at Pontiac Hospital

The sign at the Pontiac Community Hospital
The sign at the Pontiac Community Hospital
Caleb Nickerson - CHIP - PontiacQC | 16-09-2021

With Health Minister Christian Dubé announcing September 7 that vaccination would be mandatory for all health care workers in the province, some are worried that beleaguered staff at local facilities would be stretched further.

According to CISSSO spokesperson Marie-Pier Després, 92.2% of their workers had one dose (same as provincial average) and 87.2% had two (provincial average is 88%). She did not have information on the rates in the Pontiac specifically.

“Prior to the implementation of mandatory vaccination, employees who were still unvaccinated were required to be screened 3 times per week (for specific areas/services only),” Després wrote in an email on September 9. She said that they would be releasing more information on the subject soon.

Dubé has stated that any health care workers who aren’t vaccinated by October 15 would be suspended without pay.

A staffer at the Pontiac Hospital with extensive knowledge of the situation said that there are currently 6 to 8 nursing staff at the hospital that haven’t been fully vaccinated, and most likely would face suspension on the October 15 deadline. The staffer spoke to CHIP 101.9 anonymously as they are not cleared by the CISSSO to speak with media. They added that they knew of one or two unvaccinated ward aides, along with some kitchen workers that would likely be suspended as well.

They called the measures overkill and said that while it might not immediately lead to breaks in service, it would put additional strain on staff that are already stretched thin.

“It’s ridiculous, we’re already lacking staff, so you put that in what the hell are we supposed to do?” they said. “At least if they’re tested two, three times a week ... we can still keep our staff, whatever’s left ... I mean that’s pretty big, suspension and sent home with no salary, I mean wow, I can’t believe that’s where we’re at.”

“We’re still hanging by a thread ... it’s day by day. If somebody calls in sick we’ll hardly be able to replace [them] ... The fact that some are going to be suspended, it will make a big difference, it will be a big dent. You just need one or two for your emerg to be gone. It just puts the whole schedule upside-down. What do you do?”

Pontiac Warden Jane Toller, speaking with CHIP 101.9 last week about the Pontiac Hospital’s obstetrics unit, worried that with staffing levels in local facilities already stretched thin, they couldn’t afford to lose any more staff.

The public health ethics committee, which advises the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ), issued a statement on September 7 going over their rationale for approving this measure, which is a change from January when they stated the move wasn’t justifiable.

The committee states that such “exceptional measures” would be viable in the current context, so long as they were temporary. They state that vaccines are one of the most effective measures to counter the virus, and the benefits of making them mandatory outweigh the downsides. However, the statement also points out that the government must clearly lay out their vision of when things would return to normal and measures like the vaccine passport and mandatory vaccinations would no longer be required.