The BC Ministry of Health is not backing down on its requirement that all health-care workers in the province be vaccinated, despite reports that rural B.C. mayors have called for an end to COVID mandates to solve a persistent nursing shortage.
B.C. is one of the few provinces that continues to enforce vaccine mandates for health workers.
Amy Crofts, a spokesperson with the province’s health ministry told The Epoch Times that the government’s “measures taken to combat the ongoing public-health emergency remain important,” and the province will continue to insist that nursing staff have a “primary COVID-19 vaccine series, unless they have obtained an exemption from the provincial health officer.”
“The trajectory of the pandemic over the next few months is uncertain as there is still significant spread of the COVID-19 virus in the province and around the world,” Crofts said in an email on Jan. 25.
Mayors Raise Concerns
Some rural B.C. mayors are reportedly calling on the province to end the vaccine mandate for health workers as a way to increase staffing levels amid critical shortages that have closed their emergency rooms at times.
A Jan. 24 report in the Vancouver Sun quoted Michael Goetz, the mayor of Merritt, B.C., as stating that one of the first questions asked, during a recent conference call between the interior B.C. health authority and rural mayors on Jan. 23 was, “Can we look [at] lifting the vaccine [mandate] for nurses?”
He told the Sun that Merritt’s Nicola Valley Hospital was being affected by staffing shortages and had been temporarily closed four times just since Christmas 2022.
In one instance, the hospital was forced to close its emergency room for one day overnight, from Sunday, Jan. 8 at 6:30 p.m. to Monday, Jan 9 at 7:00 a.m. Patients were told to go to Kamloops or Kelowna in an emergency.
Goetz did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Goetz and other mayors who belong to the B.C. Rural Health Care Alliance, a group of 37 mayors trying to address the health care shortage, took part in the conference call the Sun reported, and raised the issue of some shortages being caused due to unvaccinated nursing staff being taken off the roster.
Health Minister Adrian Dix denied the mandate was causing the shortages.
“The issue on health-care staffing challenges is COVID-19, it’s not the mandate,” he told the Sun.
Dix said shortages were the result of people not coming to work when sick. He added that 99 percent of full-time health-care workers were vaccinated.
Crofts told The Epoch Times that approximately 2,496 employees across the province have been terminated “due to non-compliance with the provincial health officer’s Hospital and Community COVID-19 Vaccination Status Information and Preventive Measures order.”
The Ministry of Health provided figures indicating that close to half of those health-care workers fired for not receiving COVID-19 shots worked in the Interior and Northern Health regions, where emergency room closures and shortages made headlines throughout 2022.
As of Spring 2022, said the province, the following number of employees were terminated: 233 employees working for the health services authority; 908 staff working for interior health (representing 3.84 percent of the workforce); 469 team members at Fraser Health; 235 staff at Vancouver Coastal, 11 staff at Providence; 343 staff working for Island Health; and 297 employees, about 3 percent of the workforce, from Northern Health.
In at least some of these figures, the numbers do not include medical staff/physicians said a government note.
Emergency Rooms Shut Down
In 2022, emergency rooms at 13 hospitals in rural B.C. were closed temporarily due to staffing shortages, for a cumulative total of 2,900 hours, or the equivalent of a four-month time frame, according to data analysis by CBC News. All of these closures served communities with a population under 10,000.
Grand Forks, B.C., which had ongoing closures overnight and complete shutdowns, was not counted in these figures. The Boundary District hospital in Grand Forks was unable to admit patients as of March 23, 2022.
According to the CBC analysis, the hospital near Slocan, B.C., in New Denver was temporarily closed multiple times in 2022. It went from being open 24 hours a day, to operating only from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Since last July. More recently, on Jan. 20, the hospital announced it had been forced to close its emergency room.
Clearwater, B.C., suffered the most from emergency room closures. The small central interior region, with just over 2,300 residents, was closed on 62 separate occasions.
Port Hardy closed its emergency department from Nov. 7 to Nov. 11, 2022, due to “limited nursing availability.” They closed again overnight from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. during the evenings of Dec 22 to Jan. 9 morning.
On Nov. 4, 2022, hundreds of B.C. nurses attended a rally in Vancouver to call attention to severe staffing shortages among other issues ahead of contract negotiations with the province. B.C. Nurses’ Union President Aman Grewal said in a speech at the rally some hospitals were reportedly short-staffed from 50 percent up to 70 percent, resulting in nurses being forced to work overtime, even 24-hour shifts.
Crofts said the vaccine mandate is staying, “to protect the province’s most vulnerable and the overall health-care system” and the province continues to encourage health professionals to get the shot, and “their booster.”