Regular tests for unvaccinated health-care workers to cost Quebec about $1 million per week
MONTREAL -- The Quebec government may have avoided another crisis by backtracking on its threat to suspend unvaccinated health-care workers, but it's a decision that will prove to be a costly one.
Approximately 8,000 existing workers in the healthcare system who haven't received the vaccine will have to submit to COVID-19 testing three times per week to remain on the job under new measures announced Wednesday that will replace the cancelled vaccine mandate.
According to figures provided to Noovo Info, the average test will cost $42. At three tests a week, the government is expecting to spend roughly $1 million on thousands of workers.
The head of the Quebec Nurses Association said the government put itself in a lose-lose situation to either allow the 8,000 unvaccinated health-care staff to keep working or make staffing shortages worse.
The association said letting the unvaccinated staff stay isn't going to be the Band-Aid on the hemmorage that is nurses leaving their jobs in Quebec.
"It's important to understand that the vaccination mandate is a very basic part of healthcare and the fact that we're not able to implement such a basic public health measure is because we've driven so many people out of healthcare in the last few years that we can't manage a small, handful of people leaving because they don't want to be vaccinated," said the association's president, Natalie Stake-Doucet.
"For me, that's the real scandal."
Originally, the plan was to have an Oct. 15 deadline to have all health workers vaccinated or they would face suspensions without pay.
Then, that was pushed to Nov. 15, but now it's gone all together after Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé acknowledged the impact on healthcare would be catastrophic. The vaccine mandate is also being challenged in court despite the government backing down on the government decree.
"To deprive ourselves of 8,000 people [in health staff ranks] will have devastating consequences for our network," Dubé said Wednesday.
On Thursday morning, the Canadian Mesical Association (CMA) said it was also disappointed with the decision. It said it's clear there's a balance between ensuring there's enough staff and trying to get everyone vaccinated.
When governments aren't able to adopt all the necessary health measures to protect the population, it's a signal of ongoing system failure, the CMA said.
As of this week, about 97 per cent of public health-care staff are vaccinated, so the ones that will have to do regular testing represents about 3 per cent of employees.
'WHY WOULD THE GOVERNMENT PAY FOR THAT?'
The Quebec Liberals were critical of the decision and called for the cost of the weekly tests to come out of the unvaccinated workers' pockets -- not the government's.
"Why would the government pay for that?" said Liberal MNA Andre Fortin in a press scrum Thursday.
"It's their decision not to subscribe to the vaccination process. It puts people at risk. It is disrespectful to their fellow employees, it worries our citizens who are turning to our hospital system and, frankly, it's their decision. They should be the one to pay for it."
Vincent Marissal, a Quebec Solidaire MNA, called the handling of the vaccination mandate a "failure."
"The minsiter came out a few months ago, flexing his muscles, playing tough against people in the healthcare system and he has not been able to deliver so there's no other way to see it as a failure," he said.
Thursday afternoon, the health ministry updated its progress in the campaign to hire more nurses. So far, 864 have been newly hired and around 2,700 have been upgraded from part-time to full-time.
The government aims to hire 4,300 more nurses in total.