With less than two weeks before all Nova Scotia’s public employees in health care, education and long-term care must show proof of COVID vaccination to keep working, the sectors are developing contingency plans to cope with losing staff.
“When we put the policy in place, we did so accepting that we’re going to lose some people that just don’t want to get vaccinated for whatever reason,” premier Tim Houston told reporters following cabinet Thursday.
As of Nov 16, reported staff vaccination rates range from 89 percent to 99 percent. While 99 percent of IWK staff have reported their vaccine status—and 99 percent of them are vaccinated—home care and education have only heard from 78 and 75 percent, respectively. Employees who haven’t shared their vaccine status by the end of the month will be put on unpaid administrative leave.
“We know the situation in the health care system, we know the pressure that those working in our health care system are under, same with education,” Houston said. “So every time we lose somebody it hurts, it does.”
The bigger risk to Nova Scotians, Houston says, would be to expose potentially vulnerable people in hospitals, schools or long-term care to unvaccinated staff. The premier says that’s not a risk he’s willing to take.
“Am I concerned about the number [of potentially unvaccinated workers]? Yeah, I’m concerned. But weighing the pros and cons of the decision, that policy is going forward,” he said.
Nova Scotia Health Authority has 94 percent vaccinated staff with 88 percent of staff reporting. The IWK Health Centre has 99 percent vaccinated with 99 percent reporting. In long-term care 93 percent of staff are vaccinated with 89 percent reporting. In Emergency Health Services 99 percent of staff are vaccinated, with 88 percent reporting. Home care has 89 percent of workers vaccinated, with 78 percent reporting. In public education 97 percent are vaccinated, with 75 percent reporting, the lowest of any sector. Houston said he wouldn’t call these figures “good,” but says “they could be worse.”
Each of these sectors are preparing for potential disruptions from lost staff, the premier says, in order to keep services running with fewer workers. For vaccinated staff who will keep working short-staffed, “it will be harsher on them, no question about it.”
Houston says he’s hopeful that with contingency planning the loss of staff in public services “won’t be obvious” to Nova Scotians. “But we’ll see what the final numbers look like and go from there.”
NDP leader Gary Burrill says it’s not enough to say that work is ongoing, and he’d like to see details for how disruptions will be avoided. “They clearly have some sense of the numbers that will be lost… I think it’s incumbent on them to lay out how they see going forward with that loss of personnel without causing a loss of services,” Burrill said. “I think they should do that as quickly as possible.”
Health & long-term care
Minister of seniors and long-term care Barbara Adams said some long-term care homes will need to bring on casual staff or nurses from other provinces to cover shortages, and some homes have preemptively paused admissions.
“We have been through this before, especially when the pandemic first hit when we had a lot of people out waiting for test results,” Adams said. She’s in close contact with more than 130 long-term care homes and says their staffing needs will vary.
Minister of health Michelle Thompson says she’s doing similar work with the health sector to figure out where the gaps may be, but “I don't know if we’ll be able to mitigate it entirely,” she said. “It isn’t going to be seamless, so we’re working as closely as we can within the districts and zones to best support them,” she said.
Minister of education Becky Druhan says there are “a myriad” of reasons why Nova Scotia teachers and other school staff may not have reported their vaccination status yet, though she didn’t say what those reasons could be. Education has the lowest reporting figures of all public sectors at 75 percent.
Druhan says there’s planning on the go within the regional centres for education to look at covering potential gaps after Nov 30.