Bluewater Health implements strict COVID-19 vaccine policy

Bluewater Health hospital in Sarnia. June 2017. (Photo by BWH)

Bluewater Health, along with other hospital networks in Ontario, are taking matters into their own hands by mandating COVID-19 immunizations among staff.

Under a previous directive announced by the province, healthcare workers could either be fully vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis. However, Bluewater Health replaced the policy to take a stricter approach and notified staff of the change on Thursday.

Hospital President and CEO Mike Lapaine said there were a few reasons as to why the hospital opted to alter its vaccine policy, one of which being the fact that staff are exhausted. He said staff were not able to adequately rest over the summer as they have been dealing with the “backlash” caused by the pandemic.

“The data we’re seeing suggests there will be a fourth wave this fall and given how busy the hospital is, it’s really hard to imagine our staff being able to deal with a fourth wave on top of everything else,” said Lapaine. “We do know that vaccines have been tremendously successful in averting severe illness in people that contract COVID. So for that reason, we’re doing it to ensure the safety of our staff, the safety of our patients, and in the broader sense, really the safety of our community.”

Hospital staff and professional staff have until October 31 to be fully vaccinated to work at Bluewater Health. Volunteers, students, and contractors will also be required to show proof of vaccination before entering the hospitals.

Although the majority of Bluewater Health staff are vaccinated already, Lapaine said the hospital is still working on the details of the policy for those who refuse vaccination.

“We’ll hash that out but the first step in that process will undoubtedly be unpaid leave,” he said.

Lapaine said the hospital hopes to have the policy completed and vetted by next week.

A joint announcement made Friday also states that Erie St. Clair hospitals are implementing a mandatory vaccination policy for staff, contractors, students, and volunteers.

“The vast majority of our hospitalized COVID-19 positive patients in Erie St Clair hospitals are not fully vaccinated. This is consistent with the provincial trend,” read a joint release.

Lapaine said this decision was not taken lightly but is in the best interest of the overall public.