By Caroline Pailliez and Clotaire Achi
BORDEAUX, France – Emmanuel Chignon managed to keep his care home in western France running through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now he is confronting a new crisis: staff who would rather quit than comply with a government mandate that they get vaccinated.
That, he says, will leave him short of staff to care for residents: six or seven staff had not had their shots by the time the mandate came into force on Wednesday, so would have to be removed from the work rotas.
Meanwhile the temp agencies he usually relies on to fill in staffing gaps say they have fewer people to offer because many of the carers on their books also say they don’t want to get vaccinated, said Chignon.
“We feel like we’re living through a third wave, but this time it’s a human resources wave,” Chignon said at the home he runs in Bordeaux, about 600 km (375 miles) south-west of Paris, on Tuesday.
Under the mandate, all healthcare and care home workers, home aids and urgent care technicians have to have had at least their first COVID-19 shot by Sept. 15.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government introduced the rule to boost vaccination uptake and try to prevent a new virus flare-up in the autumn that would throttle the economy again just as it starts to recover.
French authorities said that as of Sept. 7 around 84% of staff in care homes and healthcare establishments had received two vaccine shots.
On healthcare workers refusing to get vaccinated, Martin Hirsch, head of public hospitals in Paris, told the Franceinfo broadcaster: “They are very few, a handful.”
But at the care home in Bordeaux, just a few absentees is enough to trigger a crisis.
Staffing was already on a knife-edge, with many people on sick leave, worn out by the stress of caring for residents through the pandemic. Managers struggle to recruit new people to a job that is tough, and poorly paid.
“If we can’t replace the carers who leave, the work will fall on the others, and I fear an unvirtuous circle, with tiredness, exhaustion and an increase in absenteeism,” said Chignon, the director.
One of those planning to leave is Emmanuel Malinowski, 35, who has worked for five years as a carer at the home run by Chignon.
He said the mandatory vaccination was an infringement of his freedom, and a kick in the teeth for a profession that already felt under-appreciated.
“After the two years we lived through in the care sector, it was the last straw,” he said.
At 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Malinowski plans to hand in his uniform and say goodbye to his colleagues. After that he plans a break in the Canary Islands, a few months living off his savings and then possibly a change of career if the vaccine mandate is not rescinded.
“I saw myself continuing in this job. It felt good, even though it’s tough, caring for the residents,” he said. “But still, I’ve made my choice.”