Ontario Announces Mandatory Vaccines for Long-Term Care Staff

Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips announced that all long-term care (LTC) staff, support workers, students and volunteers in Ontario will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 15, 2021, or to show proof of a valid medical exemption.

This policy comes over a month after a coalition of long-term care providers announced a policy stating unvaccinated staff would be placed on unpaid leave if they do not get their COVID-19 vaccines by October 12, 2021. Since the end of May, the province required long-term care providers to develop their own vaccine policy, with some mandating vaccines for their employees and others requiring unvaccinated employees to undergo regular COVID-19 testing. Today’s announcement provides a consistent policy for all long-term care home operators in the province.

What is included in the policy?

Answering media questions at today’s press conference, Minister Phillips noted that the province has carefully weighed the potential challenges of this policy, specifically the human resource constraints if staff choose not to get vaccinated. Minister Phillips made it clear that this was the best option forward for the safety of both the residents and vaccinated staff in Ontario’s long-term care homes.

COVID-19 testing will continue to be required for unvaccinated visitors and essential caregivers, with Minister Phillips stating that this policy may be revisited in the near future.

The policy will not be applied to the entire health care sector, meaning an unvaccinated Personal Support Worker will still be able to work in other settings such as home care. According to the Minister of Long-Term Care, the policy is being applied where the risk is the highest.

In addition, the Ministry of Long-Term Care will publicly publish the vaccination rates of long-term care home staff, and as the policy rolls out, long-term care homes will be required to report their progress. As of August 31, 2021 about 44% of long-term care homes had staff vaccination rates below 90%. The province’s average for vaccinated long-term care staff hovers around 80%.

What to expect next?

The Legislature is set to resume Monday, October 4 at 9:00 a.m. with a Speech from the Throne.

Today’s announcement comes five months after Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission submitted its Final Report to the Minister of Long-Term Care. On the implementation of the Commission Report, Minister Phillips stated that he will bring forward legislation as part of the fall session. Legislation will be focused on three areas:

  1. Expanding care by increasing staffing levels by 45% and mandating four hours of care every day per resident.

  2. Building and redeveloping 30,000 new long-term care beds with 20,000 of those beds already allocated.

  3. Providing greater enforcement, transparency and accountability within Ontario’s long-term care homes.

Many stakeholders have already been consulted on the proposed legislation and with the PCs still holding a majority, this bill is expected to pass before the Legislature rises for winter break.

Minister Phillips has also hinted at changes coming to the LTC sector since he became Minister in June. With the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission report outlining 85 recommendations, it is expected many of the recommendations will be included in this bill that will be tabled in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions about this mandate and the impacts it could have on your organization, please reach out.