B.C.'s LTC home workers can work in more than one facility

In preparation for mandatory vaccine deadline for senior care homes, B.C. health authorities are advising operators to be prepared to stop accepting new residents, cancel leaves and end workers' vacations early to battle expected staff shortages

Vancouver Sun 3 minute read October 12, 2021

B.C.’s long-term care homes and assisted living facilities will again be able to request staff work in more than one facility should they face staff shortages.

A last-minute public health order to that effect was issued as employees at such facilities are required to be fully vaccinated by Tuesday, Oct. 12.

The exemption for vaccinated workers to work in more than one facility is a reversal of a health order issued in March 2020 designed to help stop the deadly spread of COVID-19 in those facilities, and it is one of many “extraordinary interventions” health authorities are advising home operators to use to deal with any staff shortage as a result of the vaccination order.

“Operators should assume that all staff who have not had dose one by Friday, Oct. 8, will likely be ineligible to work” on Tuesday, said the directive from the public health office, dated Friday.

Health ministry staff didn’t return a request for comment on the holiday Monday.

“There is definitely going to be some gaps in staffing levels,” said Mike Klassen, spokesman for the B.C. Care Providers Association. “Some operators are going to find it more difficult than others.”

Klassen said it’s not known how many of the 40,000 workers in long term care and assisted living homes remain unvaccinated.

Health Minister Adrian Dix has said it is likely health care workers are inoculated at a higher rate than the provincial average. As of Friday, 73 per cent of British Columbians were fully vaccinated.

B.C. has warned operators to be prepared for staff shortages and has set out three tiers of escalating remedies.

In the planning stage, homes are first advised to call on all available employees, hire casual workers, change schedules, offer overtime shifts, cancel discretionary leave, call workers back from vacation and not accept any new residents.

If the shortages continue, operators should be prepared to implement “extraordinary interventions,” including the single-site order exemptions for vaccinated staff and to employ retired workers, those deployed to vaccination centres, students, recent graduates and managers and to use outside service providers, like food delivery services. They should consider cancelling outings, recreational activities and adult day programs for residents and visitors.

“The worst case scenario is that they’re going to start closing beds,” not by removing residents but by suspending admissions, said Klassen. “That could exacerbate existing (bed) shortages.”

If the homes are still struggling with staff levels, health authorities could create “float teams” of staff that could be sent to facilities needing help within the five authorities.

The latest public health order is for workers to be fully vaccinated by Tuesday but workers with one dose can work if they get their second dose in 28 to 35 days, wear PPE and get rapid tested.

Those with no dose by Tuesday have until Oct. 26 to get a first jab. But they can’t work until seven days after their first dose and must plan to get a second dose in 28 to 35 days, wear PPE and get rapid testing.

The province has also mandated visitors to care homes have proof of at least one COVID vaccination dose by Oct. 12 and two doses by Nov. 30.

The mandatory vaccine order will be in place until rescinded by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

B.C.’s attorney general “will address any legal challenges brought against” the public health officer, the province said.