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136 KHSC staff placed on unpaid leave for not complying to vaccine mandate

Kingston Health Sciences Centre has placed 136 of its staff on unpaid leave for refusing to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) says 95 per cent of its more than 5,000 employees have provided either proof of vaccination or a valid exemption.

Yet 136 staff have been placed on administrative leave for refusing to comply with the hospital organization’s vaccine mandate.

KHSC gave all staff at its two hospitals a deadline of Wednesday to show proof of first vaccinations. The organization said the 136 staff who have so far failed to provide proof have been placed on an unpaid two-week administrative leave.

Following those two weeks, if proof is still not given, further disciplinary action, including termination, is on the table.

Read more: COVID-19: 140 unvaccinated staff at Windsor, Ont. hospital placed on leave

“People can choose not to be vaccinated, and it means that they may not be working at the right place,” said Elizabeth Bardon, vice president of mission and strategy for the hospital organization.

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Bardon did not give a breakdown of how many clinical staff are included in that number. She also added that termination won’t necessarily be the first course of action once the two weeks are up.

“It doesn’t mean that that will have an answer in two weeks. It may take us a little longer to determine what the next steps are,” she said.

She added that KHSC’s vaccine mandate has actually pushed a small number of people previously on the fence to get their vaccines.

Bardon says the two-week period also gives those who haven’t shown proof a last chance to do so before more action is taken.

Read more: Anti-vaccine protesters gather outside Kingston General Hospital

“It’s the last opportunity, essentially, for someone to say, well, I actually thought I submitted my information, but it’s gotten lost in the mail or I’m a casual employee, I haven’t worked in a year and I’m not planning to return,” she said.

Still, Bardon said the good news is that 95 per cent of their over 5,000 employees have shown proof of full vaccination. Less than 10 of the employees have shown proof of a valid medical exemption.

In the end, the hospital’s decision to place its staff on leave was in part prompted by a recent outbreak at Kingston General Hospital, in which some unvaccinated staff were involved. It’s not a situation they want to be in again.

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“If we have an outbreak in the hospital, it’s risky for our patients. It’s risky for particularly for those who are very, very sick and immunocompromised and for others.”

On Wednesday, during the KFL&A board of health meeting, Dr. Hugh Guan, acting medical officer of health for the region, said that fully vaccinated people are still catching COVID-19 and ending up in intensive care units. Most of those people are either elderly or have previous medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the disease.

Bardon says for this reason, KHSC will no longer be hiring any unvaccinated staff, which means that in order to work at one of their two hospitals, you have to be vaccinated.

Bardon said the hospital is still working out how it will run if they lose more than 130 staff, but a loss like this can be planned for. In outbreak situations, when unplanned staffing shortages occur, it’s harder to recoup, she says.

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She said KHSC is always hiring, and that she believes there is a system in place to recover their numbers.

For those who continue to refuse to be vaccinated, the result could likely be that they lose their jobs at KHSC.

“There may be some people who are uncomfortable with that and feel that that’s not a good fit for them, and so ultimately, then it’s a choice.”

Providence Care

Providence Care says 97 per cent of its nearly 1,500 employees have complied with its mandatory vaccination policy.

Still, 46 staff members have no complied by Wednesday’s deadline to show first doses, and have been put on unpaid administrative leave for the time being. All unvaccinated staff were given the opportunity to get their first dose no later than Sept. 21, and their second dose by Oct. 22, Providence Care said.

This policy affects Providence Care Hospital, Providence Manor, Providence Transitional Care Centre and all of Providence Care’s community-based mental health and support services sites.

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