N.S. seniors advocate wants mandatory vaccination requirements for long-term care workers

When it comes to those working in or visiting long-term care homes in Nova Scotia, Bill VanGorder, with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, believes if they’re able to be vaccinated, they should be.

"To put it bluntly, we recall when we had some of the outbreaks, the bad outbreaks in long-term care homes early in the pandemic. It was reported that those outbreaks were started by people accidently bringing COVID-19 into the homes,” said VanGorder. “Why would we risk that again?"

VanGorder would like to see mandatory vaccinations for those who work in long-term care homes.

That’s one of the topics Barbara Adams, Nova Scotia’s new Minister for Seniors and Long-term Care, will discuss with the province’s top doctor when they meet next week.

"Right now, we don't have a number of what percentage in long-term care are vaccinated. I did ask that question," said Adams. "All we know right now is vaccination rates by age group and certainly those who are older are much more likely to be vaccinated. The group least likely to be vaccinated is between 20 and 24, some of whom work in long-term care, so that's a concern for us."

Nova Scotia plans to move into the fifth and final phase of its COVID-19 reopening on Wednesday, Sept. 15. When it does, all COVID-19 restrictions will be dropped across the province, including mandatory masking and gathering limits.

Border measures however, will remain in place.

"Many of our members are deeply concerned about the decisions in terms of masking and the removal of masks for visitors entering long-term care,” said Michele Lowe, executive director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association.

The province says health care facilities will continue to set their own policies for masks and visitation. However, Lowe would like to see a consistent approach.

"It should be something that Public Health considers that for health care facilities, at least in long-term care, where we have our most vulnerable, that we have a policy that is right across the province the same,” said Lowe.

As of Oct. 4, proof of vaccination will be required for Nova Scotians who are 12 and older to participate in non-essential activities. Some Nova Scotians have concerns about how the policy will work and are waiting for additional information from the provincial government.

"I think a lot of people, most people, want to follow the restrictions. They want to do what's best for themselves and for their neighbours, and for everyone in the province to keep everyone safe," said Chris Parsons with the Nova Scotia Health Coalition.

"But what we really have to do is make sure there's enough information and tools to do so and hopefully we'll get those soon.".

How the new vaccine policy will end up rolling out in the long-term care sector is unclear.

"If we really look at what Public Health has come out with, it would mean that it would go back to that individual nursing home to either mandate all staff have vaccinations or it would be up to that nursing home to say to visitors, you must show proof of vaccination, so there's no real clarity around it,” said Lowe.