Nearly 80 staff at Toronto long-term care home suspended without pay after not getting COVID-19 vaccine

Nearly 80 employees at a Toronto long-term care home have been suspended without pay for failing to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19, staff say.

On Thursday, 20 of those employees gathered outside of Copernicus Lodge, located on Roncesvalles Avenue near Queen Street, to protest the vaccination policy.

The staff confirmed that 76 employees, roughly one third of staff at the facility, have been suspended without pay as a result of the policy. The protest participants did not want to speak with CTV News Toronto, instead choosing to protest silently by displaying signs that said “freedom for our medical choices” and “stop the discrimination for the vaccinated and no vaccinated.”

According to a letter obtained by CTV News, the long-term care home gave staff until Oct. 4 to show proof of at least one vaccine dose. By Nov. 4 staff are expected to be able to prove they are fully vaccinated.

The dates roughly align with the province’s mandate, announced on Oct. 1, requiring all long-term care staff, support workers and volunteers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-November.

Anyone who has yet to receive both doses of a vaccine, and has not provided a valid medical exemption, will not be able to enter the facility.

Staff, support workers, students and volunteers will have until Nov. 15 to show proof they have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine or a valid medical exemption. If they do not, they will not be able to enter the facility.

Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips said at the time that as the province does not employ long-term care staff, the decision on each worker’s employment status will be up to the operator of the home.

“If you're one of the staff, who has not yet gotten vaccinated, I ask you to please go and book your first shot,” Phillips said at the time. “Please make the choice to protect yourself, your co-workers and the residents that depend on you every day.”

When asked about Copernicus Lodge on Wednesday, Phillips only said there is a greater risk in contracting COVID-19 than there is in having staffing issues at the home.

While the protest outside Copernicus Lodge received some support from cars driving by, family members of residents and those walking by on the sidewalk had different opinions.

Yola Edwards, whose mother is a resident at Copernicus Lodge, said she is frustrated with the lack of empathy from those chosen not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. She also says that home continues to be in lockdown as a result of outbreaks.

“They continue to be in lockdown because you have unvaccinated staff who bring in the coronavirus,” she said.

Resident Margaret Anthony said she is disheartened to see the protest knowing that so many people in long-term care died as a result of COVID-19.

“People don't seem to understand the severity of the situation. And the reality is, it's not over. It's not over.”

According to the latest provincial data published on Oct. 1, about 63 per cent of staff at Copernicus Lodge are considered fully vaccinated. Sixty-five per cent have received at least one dose.

There is currently an outbreak of COVID-19 at Copernicus Lodge.

With files from CTV News Toronto's Sean Leathong