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Shuswap MLA concerned paid staff are replacing vaccine volunteers

A Shuswap MLA is speaking out about a vaccination clinic staffing program he believes is not working in Salmon Arm.

The B.C. government’s initiative employs laid-off tourism workers at vaccine clinics, but in Salmon Arm, it has displaced some local volunteers.

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Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo believes the way the initiative has been rolled out is disrespectful to volunteers, is creating an unnecessary expense, and is causing unnecessary travel during the pandemic.

The Liberal MLA alleges some of the new paid staff are from across Canada and have not been vaccinated.

Kyllo said he became aware of the issue this week when he was contacted by volunteers from Salmon Arm’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic who had been let go.

“Adding insult to injury, they’ve been replaced by paid Red Cross workers that have been flown in from across Canada,” Kyllo said.

“I can’t imagine the cost but it must be in the magnitude $7,000 or $8,000 a week to displace volunteers who were doing a fantastic job assisting with vaccinations here in Salmon Arm for the last five weeks.”

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It’s part of a provincial initiative Premier John Horgan announced in March to help some of B.C.’s hardest-hit industries while bolstering the vaccine effort.

B.C’s premier said around 1,400 laid-off tourism and hospitality workers would work in non-clinical roles at vaccination clinics.

The health authority is defending the shift to paid staff in Salmon Arm.

Interior Health said in a statement there will still be a role for volunteers but by transitioning some of the work to paid staff the immunization centre will be even more stable and reliable in the long term.

However, Kyllo believes there was no need to displace the volunteers.

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“I certainly don’t want to disparage the great work of the Red Cross across Canada, but in Salmon Arm, we did not need the assistance. So we have paid staff, flights, [and] two individuals coming from across Canada that had not even been vaccinated. You look at that, on top of everything else, with the existing travel restrictions that are in place, you kind of got to shake your head and think what is the government thinking?” Kyllo said.

The health authority did not respond directly to Kyllo’s allegations that some of the staff are coming from out-of-town and have not been vaccinated.

However, Interior Health said the Red Cross aims to hire locally and that Red Cross workers will be immunized if they are eligible or when vaccine becomes available.

“Everyone is focussed on the same goal, to make sure people have opportunities to get immunized as quickly as possible, and we’re continuing to coordinate options for local volunteers and the Red Cross to work together in Salmon Arm,” Interior Health said in a statement.

In a statement, the Red Cross confirmed it is providing non-clinical support at vaccine clinics and deferred to Interior Health.

“With regards to the sites at which we’ve been asked to provide non-clinical support, we do so at the request of the health authority and, as such, rely on their guidance,” an organization spokesperson said in a statement.

Neither the Red Cross nor Interior Health answered a direct question about whether tax dollars are being used to pay for Red Cross staff accommodations in Salmon Arm, as Kyllo alleges.

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