About 500 out of 1,400 unvaccinated Alberta Health Services workers have indicated they will return to work under the province’s expanded COVID-19 testing option.
Earlier this month, the province began allowing unvaccinated AHS staff members return to work as long as they participated in the temporary frequent testing program.
Previously, these staff members needed to be double vaccinated to come into work, with the exception of “a very small number of eligible workers” at certain clinical work locations.
“There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to AHS’ immunization policy, with more than 97 per cent of AHS full-time and part-time employees and 99.8 per cent of physicians having at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine,” AHS said in a statement.
“At the direction of the provincial government, as of Jan. 10, AHS began providing all unimmunized staff and physicians the option of temporary frequent COVID-19 testing to ensure we can meet the demand on our healthcare system due to the surge in cases caused by the Omicron variant.”
Eligible staff who have not yet indicated a preference still have the ability to return with the testing option if they decide to do so, AHS added.
Bonnie Gostola, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees vice-president, said “forcing staff to pay for their own COVID tests before returning to work is not smart policy.”
“It’s a barrier they are forced to climb over if they want to get back to helping Albertans. That is not what we should be doing given the staffing shortages and rising case numbers Alberta is facing,” said Gostola.
“AUPE has encouraged members to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their co-workers, and their loved ones. But those who are not vaccinated also deserve union representation, which is why we have filed hundreds of grievances related to AHS’s policies.
“Making these workers pay for testing is another instance of AHS implementing a policy that isn’t fair to everyone. Their policies should be realistic and universal to ensure we can all work together to tackle this virus, which isn’t going away any time soon.”
AHS said it cannot share details about the number of staff and physicians at the zone level to ensure confidentiality, so it’s uncertain how many of the 500 unvaccinated workers who will return to work are located within the central zone.
In early December, the central zone had the lowest compliance rate of all AHS zones in terms of workers who got double vaccinated.
As of Dec. 8, 93.5 per cent of AHS staff were double vaccinated in the central zone, compared to Calgary zone (97.5 per cent), Edmonton zone (97.2 per cent), south zone (95.3 per cent) and north zone (93.7 per cent).