In the last several weeks, the health regions and affiliates adopted the “Immunize or Mask” policy aimed at increasing immunization rates during this flu season. The policy was drafted by the Ministry of Health, in consultation with the Provincial Chief Medical Health Officer, and is bolstered by a recent arbitration ruling from British Columbia that sets out Employers can rely on and enforce the provisions of an “Immunize or Mask” policy.
SEIU-West met with the RHA’s, along with other health care unions, and the Ministry of Health, to discuss our concerns about this sort of policy and the potential impact that it would have on front-line staff. We were able to see the original policy amended to some degree, including the guarantee that the mask would not be considered as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and therefore not subject to any sort of summary offense ticketing scheme.
We believe very strongly in our members’ having a choice on whether to immunize or not, and while this might not feel like the choice we desired, we do have a choice on whether or not to be immunized. We also believe that there are a number of avenues in our collective agreement that can address the issue of staffing during an outbreak (for instance, moving someone to a non-outbreak area). We also believe that this policy should be fairly administered by facilities to include the mandatory wearing of masks by guests, visitors and the public who are not immunized. Because it’s not just health care workers who are on the front line of an outbreak – we are all responsible and we should all take steps to fulfill our responsibility.
Studies show that, consistently, immunization is an effective way to prevent an influenza outbreak. However, we understand from studies carried out by health care researchers that immunization is NOT THE ONLY way to avoid an outbreak. The studies show that proper infection control protocols needs to be in place as well. This would include adequate staffing to ensure that the care and cleaning are being done according to best practices.
SEIU-West encourages you to be familiar with the “Immunize or Mask” policy and to abide by it. We have written to our regional health authorities and the Minister of Health to point out our statement on this policy, but also to advocate for safe staffing levels throughout the year in order to provide the best and safest Patient and Family Centered Care possible to the people we serve.