Care homes can dismiss unvaccinated workers, but replacements hard to find

A sign saying
A sign saying "quarantine" on a door of Leevi Care Home. Source: ERR

Data from the Health Board shows that there are currently COVID-19 outbreaks in 15 Estonian care homes and infections there mostly stem from unvaccinated workers. The social ministry says care homes can dismiss unvaccinated workers, but care homes say it is very hard to find replacements at the current wage level.

23 of the 24 clients at Leevi Care Home in Räpina municipality are currently infected with the coronavirus, as are all but three of the care home's employees," ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Thursday.

Leevi Care Home manager Aina Olle, who is recently out of a bout with the coronavirus, admits that part of the staff is unvaccinated. "I support vaccinations, but how can I force people. Finding employees in our region is hard enough. We are also all sick. It is so hard for me to find someone to come do this thankless job," Olle said.

The Health Board says there are currently 15 coronavirus outbreaks in Estonian care homes with most of them in southern Estonia. "Speaking of common factors, then the infection mostly reaches care homes through workers or guests. /.../ There are more cases where the infection is brought in by an unvaccinated worker," said Health Board infectious diseases department head Hanna Sepp.

Lõuna-Eesti Care Home is the largest service provider in Estonia with six care homes and 800 beds. Many of their buildings were also in quarantine recently.

Company manager Ülo Tulik is not aware how many workers are unvaccinated. "We do not have this information. I think it could be some 40 out of our 300 employees," he said.

Data from the Health Board shows that 81 percent of care home workers in Estonia are vaccinated against COVID-19. Ministry of Social Affairs undersecretary of social affairs Rait Kuuse said that care home managers can demand vaccination based on their risk analyses and if there is no other option, workers refusing to get vaccinated can be dismissed.

"Today's legal space allows us to make all these decisions," Kuuse noted.

Ülo Tulik said he would not give that responsibility to the managers. "You can make this decision when the state and the local municipality government comes together and we can pay our workers €300-350 more. Then the labor problem would be solved. Many people are leaving their jobs today," the care home manager said.

Rait Kuuse noted that people in care homes are in a much more vulnerable state. "We have to pay attention and be careful. If that is too much, it is clear that we must assess the future of maintaining that care home if it is hard to find workers and important issues cannot be handled," he said.

Care homes will soon begin administering third vaccine doses in order to protect people living in care homes.

Ministry secretary general: Care homes can alter living conditions

Ministry of Social Affairs secretary-general Maarjo Mändmaa told "Aktuaalne kaamera" that there could be significant labor issues in some regions if unvaccinated workers are released. He added that during his time as the head of state-owned care home manager AS Hoolekandeteenused, he did not impose a 100 percent vaccination mandate, but stayed at 90 percent.

"But I actually support that in some sectors - which care also is - employees should be vaccinated," he noted.

Mändmaa said that if the government wants to make vaccinations mandatory in some fields, it could be done, but all legal frameworks have already been created to make vaccinations in care homes mandatory. "There is the risk analysis option. You can establish that in some cases, vaccinations are the most efficient way to protect people and then you can begin discussing that all people refusing to get vaccinated can leave," the secretary-general said.

He noted that in addition to vaccinating employees, care homes can find other ways of protecting their clients.

"Living conditions, for example. Not having everyone crammed into larger rooms, but giving people smaller spaces to live in, units where they are not in contact with each other as much. This also allows for these people to be cared for in case of other viruses. This also creates a more safe environment. And then there is personal protective equipment, hygiene conditions. This all helps avoid infections at care homes," Mändmaa explained.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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