Sandy Hartman is frustrated. She’s not allowed back to work at the London Health Sciences Center because she’s not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“At this point in time, the policy is outdated, and I’m hoping we can see some changes,” said Hartman.

A staff nurse at LHSC for the past 12 years, Hartman, who is eight months pregnant, has been put on an unpaid leave of absence by the hospital because of her vaccination status.

She believes the softening of other COVID regulations recently, like mandatory masking and patient screening, means she should be allowed to return to work.

“We’re letting patients and families come into the hospital not knowing their vaccination status, and we are allowing staff who are COVID positive to work, yet I can’t go back to work as a healthy, unvaccinated staff member,” said Hartman.

Alanna Fitzpatrick knows exactly what Hartman is going through. She had her privileges to practice plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Stratford General Hospital suspended in November of 2021 because she wouldn’t get vaccinated.

“I don’t think anyone would argue that a healthcare worker who had two primary doses two years ago would have any risk difference than someone with natural immunity,” said the Stratford, Ont. surgeon.

Alanna Fitzpatrick and Sandy Hartman met in Stratford on June 15, 2023, to discuss hospital vaccination policies that cost both of them their paycheck. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

While other COVID regulations have loosened at Ontario hospitals this year, mandatory vaccination is still a requirement, according to hospital officials.

“The emergency is over, the pandemic is not over. COVID-19 is still present in our communities. We encourage people to maintain their boosters, and we provide care to vulnerable individuals, so it really is to protect our patients, staff, and visitors,” said Mary Cardinal, Huron-Perth Healthcare Alliance’s (HPHA) Vice-President of People and Chief Quality Executives.

Both Hartman and Fitzpatrick feel as though it’s time for Ontario hospitals to change their vaccine policies, especially since the province is in the midst of a chronic healthcare worker shortage that’s closing emergency departments across the province.

“It’s not just my job that gets saved, but many, many other nurses. Hundreds across Ontario would be able to get back into the workforce and be able to help in this crisis situation,” said Hartman.

“Probably the threat of a shortage of nurses is worse than the threat of COVID at this point,” said Fitzpatrick. “As a small town physician, I am really hoping it is going to be the small hospital that moves first, and recruits these nurses,” said Fitzpatrick.

Cardinal said hospital vaccine policies around COVID-19 at the HPHA could change, but they aren’t being removed right now.

“Never say never, but this is a requirement at the moment, and is not actively under consideration,” said Cardinal.