One of British Columbia’s largest health associations, embroiled in an internal dispute over opposition to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in the health care sector, is facing a leadership crisis.
Just days after the B.C. Nurses’ Union, with 48,000 members, came out against the province’s mandatory vaccine order, the union announced the sudden departure of its top official.
“Christine Sorensen has resigned as BCNU President for personal reasons and to pursue other opportunities,” said a statement published Monday night on the union’s website. Ms Sorensen has not been visible in public for the past week as the union battles against the province’s mandatory vaccine order, which comes into force on 26 October.
“We cannot support any order that would remove a single nurse or other health care worker from the health care system during a time of serious crisis,” the union said in a statement on September 13. Ms Sorensen was not quoted in the statement and did not respond to media requests.
Comments on the announcement on the union’s public Facebook page highlighted divisions. The people who posted could not be reached for comment.
“Vaccination to our patients should be seen by health care professionals. BCNU is at a loss, my social media is on fire with my friends/colleagues being angry, upset, embarrassed,” nurse Joanna McKenzie responded to the union’s post Giving written in public comments.
Dorothy Creech commented, “As nurses I feel that we have a moral responsibility to uphold the right of patients and individuals to do what is best for them.”
Two days later, the union issued a “clarification” in response to backlash from its membership. “We are reaching out today in response to members who have contacted the union to express their confusion, disagreement or concerns.” The union acknowledged that most of its membership is already vaccinated, but warned that the policy could “create desperate staffing challenges in workplaces where staffing is already very thin.” It warned that thousands of nurses could be sidelined by the policy.
On Tuesday, public-health officials announced they were now turning over critically ill patients in British Columbia, as low vaccination rates in the north overloaded hospitals there.
Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry urged people to help healthcare workers burdened with vaccinations. “Our teams are exhausted, and there is a moral crisis that we feel when we are seeing people who are suffering from a preventable disease,” he said during a briefing on Tuesday. “Part of that strain are health care workers who haven’t been vaccinated yet.” She said more than 100 unconnected health care workers were off work last week because of COVID-19.
Health Minister Adrian Dix blamed those who choose not to be vaccinated in acute care to drive the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. “Our health care workers continue to provide the best possible care to each patient, but it is not just a matter of asking them to continue to do more. We compensate for the devastating consequences people face when they decide not to vaccinate. Can’t say no to.”
Under current labor contracts, nurses and other unionized health care workers may be required to be immunized as a condition of employment. The province has announced that all health care workers who work in settings with patients will need a COVID-19 vaccine, except in rare cases that justify a medical exemption. However, the details of which health care personnel and health care settings are to be included in the mandatory requirement are still being worked out.
The nurses’ union said this month that 20 percent of its members have not been vaccinated for COVID-19. By comparison, only 13 percent of the general population of eligible British Columbians remain illiterate.
The Canadian Nurses Association supports mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers, but BCNU is not a member of the national organization.
Union officials did not respond to inquiries about the circumstances of Ms Sorensen’s departure.
Ms Sorensen served as the union’s president in early 2018, taking over after forcing Gail Duteil into a squabble that ended after two rounds of costly arbitration and a court battle over its handling. The council disqualified him to continue in office.
Ms Duteel is now one of the vocal advocates of compulsory vaccination. “Nurses must find a safe workplace for themselves, their families and their patients,” she wrote in a September 16 posting on Twitter.
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