Over 250 hospital staff across Waterloo-Wellington on leave due to vaccine mandate

COVID-19 vaccine mandates have come and gone and have some people in the health care sector now dealing with the consequences.

As of Wednesday, there are over 250 hospital staff members from across Waterloo Region and Wellington County on unpaid leave for not meeting Tuesday’s deadline to comply with vaccine policies.

At St. Mary’s Hospital, 99 per cent of staff are vaccinated, with 27 now on the unpaid leave.

“They’re a mix of support services and those that might be involved in frontline care with patients,” said hospital president Lee Fairclough. “I think that with our goal of adding a layer of protection for patients and staff, we’ve been really grateful to see people do that.”

There will be limited impact to patient care at St. Mary’s due to the relatively low number of staff on leave compared to other hospitals.

“They’re a mix of full time, part time and casual staff,” said Fairclough. “We will offer shifts to other staff members that would like to work additional shifts, or we’ll turn to other temporary sources of resources like agencies.

“We need to be constantly recruiting, but those are two separate issues.”

At Grand River Hospital, 94.4 per cent are fully vaccinated and 1.5 per cent have their first dose, leaving 171 staff members who have been placed on leave.

Cambridge Memorial Hospital staff are 98.6 vaccinated, with 51 staff members who have chosen not to comply.

Sharleen Stewart is the president of SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents over 60,000 frontline workers in Ontario, and is concerned since the system is already dealing with the “perfect storm” of staffing shortages.

“We’re seeing a lot, in the last few days, take the vaccine, which we’re all happy about,” she said. “We are in a staffing crisis that we have not seen since the 1990’s. So for whatever reason, and I have to tell you, more vaccinated frontline workers are leaving the profession right now than the unvaccinated.”

Steward cites burnout, disrespect, unfair wages, and poor working conditions as reasons for the staffing crisis.

All employees at local hospitals must prove they are fully vaccinated by Nov. 9 or risk losing their jobs entirely.