'I have no regrets about staying strong on this': Staff shortages grow after N.B. vaccine policy
FREDERICTON -- Some New Brunswick parents had to drive their child to school Monday morning, as several bus routes were cancelled because of a shortage of drivers.
And some districts have confirmed to CTV Atlantic, the existing shortage has been made worse because of the province’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy.
As of last Friday, all government employees must have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and show proof they’ve made an appointment for the second.
Anglophone West School District informed parents one bus would not be on the road, impacting five routes in the Hanwell and New Maryland areas.
“This school year, we have seen an increase in bus driver absences,” said Anglophone West spokesperson, Jennifer Read. “This can be due to staff on leave for various reasons, which now includes those who have, starting today, been placed on leave of absence without pay in compliance with the provincial mandate for all public servants who have not shown proof of vaccination.”
Read said the sector has “historically struggled with recruiting and retaining people for this kind of work and are experiencing a shortage.”
The Francophone South School District said six buses will not be running for an indefinite period of time.
“Labour shortages are a common phenomenon, but one that particularly affects the school community. We are making every effort to replace absent staff and restore services as quickly as possible,” said spokesperson Jean-Luc Thériault. “The Government of New Brunswick's immunization policy, in effect since Nov. 19, which requires school staff to be fully vaccinated, also has an impact on the availability of human resources.”
The New Brunswick Teachers’ Association says nearly 800 staff are out across the sector.
“Teachers and administrators are questioning the government’s ability to stabilize the system after so many interruptions and disruptions this school year,” said NBTA President Connie Keating. “Although there may be an adult in front of our students today – the question would be – do they have the expertise to ensure that our students are receiving quality education? Who’s filling those gaps?”
The Education Department said recruiting and retaining supply teachers, bus drivers and other casual employees was a challenge before the pandemic – but the “pressures have since increased.”
“This morning a number of school bus routes have been cancelled due to staffing pressures related to GNB’s vaccination policy requirements, logistical needs, isolation requirements or illness,” said a department spokesperson. “A number of school districts have experienced challenges since the beginning of the year and we thank families for their patience as districts work diligently to resolve these issues.”
HEALTH CARE IMPACTED TOO, BUT 'MANAGEABLE'
According to numbers on Friday afternoon, over 700 health-care workers across Vitalité and Horizon Health would be off work because of the policy.
But on Monday, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said that number decreased over the weekend.
“Our numbers came down significantly by Friday afternoon,” she said. “If I’m correct, the numbers for Horizon are 202 and Vitalité, it was 143, and that dropped to 123 by 10 p.m. Friday evening. Those are dispersed throughout the network and the health authorities felt that it was very manageable.”
She added she as "no regrets about staying strong on this," saying the policy has encouraged many government employees to get the shot. One month before the policy came into effect – there was still about 10,000 unvaccinated government employees.
The Department of Finance says they’ll have the final tally of who’s been placed on leave Tuesday.
Fredericton-South MLA and Green Party Leader David Coon agrees the policy needed to happen but wanted to see more preparation.
“I am assuming that all departments concerned have comprehensive contingency plans but we haven’t seen any public presentations of that and I think it’d be very helpful if the departments involved, in particular – education and health – would come clean with their contingency plans and let New Brunswickers know how they’re addressing any shortages that pop up,” he said. “Remember, these numbers are spread all over New Brunswick and they could end up in pockets where there’s a greater number of gaps than in other places. But without that kind of transparency, no one has a good picture of what’s going on.”
Horizon Vice-President of patient-centred care, Margaret Melanson, confirmed in a statement the network is managing.
“Horizon has 190 employees on an unpaid leave of absence. Though we regret the loss of these staff members, at this time Horizon is managing with the absences and we are not aware of any disruptions to service delivery,” she said.