‘Hire Back our Heroes’ billboards, stickers and lawn signs have been popping up across B.C. recently.
The campaign’s goal is to give a voice to the unvaccinated health care employees that are hoping to return to work.
In March 2021, a relatively small but significant portion of B.C.’s healthcare workers were terminated for failure to comply with provincial mandates.
Dr. Joshua Nordine, an internationally-trained family physician with Kelowna’s Rutland Medical Associates, is a spokesperson for the campaign.
In an interview with Capital News he said that as the pandemic nears an endemic state and “natural immunity” becomes widespread, it is time to reverse COVID policies and hire back unvaccinated workers.
“We can make it so that they can work safely,” said Nordine.
He alleges that with masking and protective measures like bi-weekly testing, unvaccinated workers do not pose any additional risk of COVID infection to patients.
“It is disingenuous to keep the same policies when we are in a different pandemic,” said Nordine.
Nordine explained that the provincial health care system is short staffed and faltering because of, in his opinion, the vaccine mandates.
Emergency departments and primary healthcare across the province have been forced to close due to a staffing crisis.
“Interior Health terminated 953 employees, which is about four-and-a-half per cent of IH’s approximately 21,000 active employees,” due to the vaccine mandate, said Interior Health.
In B.C. 98 percent of physicians and surgeons are vaccinated or medically exempt.
The exact number of ‘terminated’ employees across the province has not yet been released by the Ministry of Health and this article will be updated as more information becomes available.
Mackenzie and District Hospital in Mackenzie B.C., stated that “there simply weren’t enough staff to keep the doors open,” during one of their closures, and Ashcroft’s Emergency Department was closed throughout the weekend of July 15, due to “limited physician availability.”
Dr. York Hsiang, a now retired vascular surgeon from Vancouver General Hospital told Capital News that even before COVID, the province’s hospitals were running at over capacity.
He said that if the healthcare system can’t handle a few hundred extra patients, it should make significant amendments.
Interior Health commented on the campaign and said it is important that the health region maintains layers of protection, including full vaccination against the COVID-19 virus. They stated that mandates are in place to protect their most “vulnerable” and “at-risk” residents in health care facilities.
The health authority said that the vaccine mandate protects healthcare workers from each other and those using the system.
Both Nordine and Hsiang explained that they would like to be able to work without the restrictions placed on them by the vaccine mandate.
Nordine has been working at his private clinic, unable to work at a local detox centre. Hsiang said that he would still be operating if not for the vaccine requirements.
The physicians explained that their colleagues of nurses, technicians, therapists and other physicians would like to return to work in health care.
They said that people who are a part of ‘Hire Back our Heroes’ believe that an entire career should not be tainted by one decision.
Not all provinces implemented a vaccine mandate for health care workers. Ontario Premier Doug Ford did not implement a COVID-19 vaccination policy for staff at hospitals and instead individual hospitals and health regions were left to make the policies themselves.
Interior Health said that COVID-19 is still circulating and the current variants are highly contagious. The health region explained that the high uptake of COVID-19 immunization has allowed public health measures to be lifted, but people are still encouraged to get vaccinated, including their second booster when it is available for their age group.