Will deadline extension inspire health staff to get vaccinated? Montreal authorities hope so
MONTREAL -- What difference could a month make? For Montreal health authorities, they’re hoping it will be a big one.
The 30 extra days the province granted on Wednesday for health staff to get vaccinated could be the magic ingredient, said Francine Dupuis, associate CEO of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.
“They will lose their right to practice their profession,” said Dupuis.
“They will be without a job. It's a lot of consequences… so I think they are going to do it.”
Others said no way — the nurses and others who aren’t yet vaccinated aren’t going to have a change of heart because of an extra month, they said.
"They're not going to get vaccinated,” said Natalia Manole, the lawyer representing 2,000 unvaxxed health workers in an emergency injunction she filed this week in court.
Many of her clients have already started looking for new careers, she said.
One unvaccinated nurse told CTV she doesn't think the extended deadline will change anyone's mind.
"If they were already willing to lose their jobs and licenses over this, an extra month will make no difference. It is up to the government to come up with other options like more testing, which should be extended to all nurses since even vaccinated nurses can transmit the virus," she said.
On Wednesday, Dubé announced a late-night about-face as the province extended the deadline, fearing the consequences will be too harsh on the health system.
Nurses and all other staff in the health network now have an extra 30 days and will have until Nov. 15 to prove they’ve gotten two shots. If not, they’ll be suspended without pay.
About 96 per cent of health workers in Quebec have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the health minister said, but still there are approximately 22,000 workers who are not adequately vaccinated.
Of those, 14,613 are completely unvaccinated, while another 7,833 have had one shot, as of Wednesday, which isn’t enough to keep their jobs.
All seem to agree that the health system will be severely taxed by the loss of staff. One union leader says he isn’t even sure sure which is the bigger risk to patients, having the occasional unvaxxed worker or losing thousands from the system.
“The health and social services network is already stretched to the limit. Take out 14,000 people and don't know how we're going to do it,” said Jeff Begley, the president of the FSSS-CSN.
Some would have preferred the government to stand firm on its deadline, said Natalie Stake-Doucet, the president of the Quebec Nurses Association. But others think it’s good to make last efforts to change minds.
“Most of us want all of our colleagues to be vaccinated, for sure,” said Natalie Stake-Doucet, the president of the Quebec Nurses Association.
But “I really want to emphasize, for nurses, the vast majority of us are vaccinated, so the chances of us working with a colleague who is unvaccinated is very, very slim,” she said, and the same is true for patients.
The risk to patients is more complicated than that, however, said Dupuis. It isn’t consistent across the board, and she believes Dubé knows that, too, she said.
“It seems that the non-vaccinated are concentrated in certain services… in certain areas,” she said. “And this is probably what frightened the minister."
As for the unvaccinated, they know their loss will hurt the province.
“These people with 20, 30 years of experience, they're going to be out of the system,” said Manole on Thursday.
“And don't forget these are the people who train the new people who join the system.”
That case, after a delay, will now go to court on Oct. 27.
But the entire conversation around vaccines is just a distraction at this point, said Stake-Doucet. The province needs to focus on other ways to bolster its workforce.
“There's so much more that we could do right now, to focus on,” she said.
“Rather than vaccine mandates, to bring people back into the health care system, you know — ending forced overtime,” for example, “that's been a plague in our health-care system.”
The province’s recent efforts on that front include recruiting some paramedics to give up their normal shifts and work in hospitals, and making a new push to headhunt foreign-trained nurses and other workers.
--With files from CTV's Selena Ross