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Quebec faces nursing shortage in advance of suspending thousands of unvaccinated nurses

Among the Quebec Order of Nurses' 80,500 members, 4,338 are not adequately vaccinated. 2,807 nurses are unvaccinated, and another 1,531 have one dose.

Alex Anas Ahmed Calgary AB

The Quebec Order of Nurses said it intends to suspend the nursing licences of those not fully vaccinated against COVID. The deadline to receive the first dose of a Health Canada-approved vaccine is October 15.

Among its 80,500 nurses, 4,338 are not adequately vaccinated. Two thousand eight hundred seven nurses are unvaccinated, and another 1,531 have one dose, reported the Montreal Gazette. Nurses who decide to get vaccinated this week will have to wait 21 days before having a second dose.

The vaccination status of 5,716 other nurses has yet to be verified. Those nurses will not face a possible suspension until the order confirms their status.

Quebec said it intended to suspend without pay the roughly 15,000 healthcare workers who remain unvaccinated, per Health Minister Christian Dube. Of those, 7,500 work directly with patients. Currently, the province faces a shortage of around 4,300 full-time nurses.

Luc Mathieu, president of the Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Quebec, said nurses must protect public health, adding that the vaccine is the best preventative measure against spreading COVID. The Quebec government said they would enforce suspensions and the loss of salary until nurses prove they're adequately vaccinated. "They will have to live with the impact of not being vaccinated on time," said Mathieu, who also warned the province that suspending nurses could disrupt patient care.

Natalia Manole, a lawyer representing unvaccinated healthcare workers, said Monday her clients feel they can perform their jobs safely if tested regularly. She intends to file with the Superior Court, asking them to temporarily stop the province of Quebec from moving forward with the suspensions on October 15. Manole hopes a judge will hear the case Thursday.

Unvaccinated healthcare workers cite treating vaccinated patients who became ill upon getting a COVID vaccine as the reason for their vaccine hesitancy. They remain concerned about the possible side effects of the vaccine. "Our position is that they're entitled to make decisions about their own body," said Manole

Manole added that healthcare workers are "absolutely terrified" about being suspended without pay on Friday. "Most of them are not going to go back to health care if it stays [this way]," she said. "Some love their jobs and are dedicated; they work so many hours and shifts."

Manole claims the nursing order buckled under government pressure and failed to represent unvaccinated healthcare workers adequately. "We are going to include [those] allegations in our motion," she added. The province's position prompted strong opposition from healthcare unions and opposition parties, who called for 'relaxing' the vaccine mandate and an extension of the deadline, citing concerns about 'severe disruptions' to public health.

Despite the opposition, Dube applauded the order's position. "The signal is clear. It's not possible to bypass the mandatory vaccination in the healthcare network on October 15." He encouraged nurses to get vaccinated as soon as possible, adding: "It's never too late."

In a bid to boost staffing, the Quebec government announced plans to give nurses a one-time bonus payment to incentivize them to stay in the public healthcare system. The health minister also spoke of the 'reorganization' of healthcare services but did not specify what type of reorganizations would be necessary or for how long.

This comes amid efforts to reverse Quebec's chronic nursing shortage. Premier Francois Legault announced his government would offer between $12,000 and $18,000 in bonuses to full-time nurses in the public system or who shift to full-time work. Employees from private agencies will mainly be offered unfavourable time slots, such as evenings, nights and weekends, to entice nurses to join public healthcare.

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