Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) is working on being ready for Ontario’s Nov. 15th deadline to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for staff. 

Carolyn Plummer, HHHS CEO says the organization recognizes the importance of immunizations for all staff, students, volunteers, and physicians. 

“Basically everyone who comes into the organization to work or provide service or care, due to the nature of their work with our vulnerable populations and potential exposure in the community,” says Plummer. 

Plummer says the policy HHHS currently has in place aims to protect the organization’s population, including patients, staff and others. 

“We haven’t made any of the decisions that we’ve made lightly at all. But because we do operate two long-term care homes, we need to be able to also support equity across the organization while also at the same time creating a safe environment for patients, residents, clients and staff,” Plummer says. 

She says ever since October 4th, HHHS policy has required vaccinations for all staff, physicians and volunteers unless it is medically exempted. 

Plummer says HHHS has around 450 staff on board currently and, as of last week, 88 percent of them were fully vaccinated. 

“We have had other people come forward to begin getting the vaccine, they’re not fully vaccinated yet, but we have had additional staff come forward since that policy went out to get the vaccine. So that number is going to climb but that’s the latest figure that I have,” she says. 

Plummer says any unvaccinated staff at this point in time have to undergo regular testing, two to three times per week. 

She adds that they also have to complete an educational program about vaccines, vaccine safety and the benefits of vaccination. 

And then once November 15th comes, any staff not fully vaccinated at that point in time are going to be placed on an unpaid leave of absence.

Plummer says the unpaid leave would last for a month, after which further consequences can “go up to and include termination of employment”.

“It’s certainly a concern,” she says, “but again we do need to follow the direction that the province gives us and then we also need to make sure that we have equity across the organization.”

“In all honesty, I think regardless of the policy direction we take there’s always going to be a risk that people could potentially leave the organization, in one way or another, for one reason or another,” says Plummer “So it’s always a concern regardless of the circumstance.”

Plummer ended by saying “HHHS is a great organization for anybody out there who’s looking to join the workforce, looking at a career in healthcare or interested in making a change. We’re certainly hiring and are open to welcoming folks into our organization. It’s a great place to work and like I said earlier we’ve got a great team, great staff, great physicians and it’s a fantastic place to work. So if you’re interested please let us know we’d be happy to hear from you,”