While most health workers are vaccinated, many are still getting sick, which is getting worse a staff shortage as more Americans seek hospital treatment. The reliance on employees, who may still be contagious, comes despite objections from the nurses unions and the American Medical Association, who warned the decision puts patient health and safety at risk. And there is no obligation to notify patients when their caregiver is sick.
Even so, the practice is practiced across the country. In New Jersey, a union official recently ordered a nurse to come to work despite concerns that she contracted Covid-19. In Rhode Island, a Nursing home and state hospital system Recently deployed workers who tested positive after the state updated its guidelines in accordance with the CDC. In Missouri, a hospital brings nurses back after five days while they are asymptomatic. Health care workers across the country have reported being called to work even when they suspect they may be contagious.
“It’s like March, April, May 2020. I haven’t seen healthcare workers panicked as I have now,” said Debbie White, an opposed registered nurse and president of New Jersey’s largest health union, the HPAE the guidelines of the CDC.
In interviews with multiple hospital managers, health workers, and health officials, almost all of them said they were following the CDC’s new advice. This guide, released last month, enables facilities to bring workers back after five days of isolation instead of 10 days without a negative Covid-19 test. In cases where staff shortages become extreme, hospitals can bring staff back with no isolation time.
Chip Kahn, a lobbyist and president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said hospitals are generally happy with the CDC’s new guidelines because they have the flexibility to decide when to bring workers back. Some public health experts also support the move, pointing out the importance of keeping health systems up and running to treat Americans’ diseases as the rise in Omicron cases increases.
Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert at New York’s Bellevue Hospital who advised President Joe Biden’s transition team, said her hospital had moved to five-day worker isolation. The hospital requires doctors and nurses to wear N-95 masks, which are among the highest protective measures available, regardless of whether they were previously infected. “If people really wear their masks,” she said, “I think the risk is very low.”
However, there are concerns for some of the most at risk patients, especially those who do not respond well to vaccines, such as the immunocompromised and many cancer patients. Exposing vulnerable patients or elderly residents in long-term care facilities is dangerous because vaccines do not necessarily protect those with compromised immune systems.
“We don’t believe that someone who knowingly is Covid positive should interact with a cancer patient,” American Cancer Society CEO Karen Knudsen told POLITICO.
The CDC recommends, but does not require, health care providers to notify patients if an infected worker spends more than 15 minutes with them within two meters. Many health professionals say it can be transmitted in less time and distance.
None of the hospitals that POLITICO contacted responded to the question of whether patients will be informed if a nurse has recently become infected.
Jennifer Caldwell, an intensive care nurse at Research Medical Center in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, said her hospital changed its guidelines shortly after updating the CDC so that workers can return to work after five days, provided they can are asymptomatic. “It feels extremely irresponsible for asking us to work sick,” she said. “Science shows that you are not contagious just because you are asymptomatic.”
A hospital spokeswoman, Christine Hamele, upheld the five-day rule, saying that employees “do not return to work if they are at risk of infection with symptoms”.
She added, “Our return to work guidelines for colleagues with Covid-19 are in line with CDC guidelines.”
Die CDCs new instructions It also allows health facilities facing “crisis” workers to keep infected workers in the workplace without isolation, but it is the facilities – not the CDC – that determine whether they have reached this level, a spokesman for the said Agency. It was not immediately possible to determine how many institutions are using this practice.
Executives and health officials told POLITICO they hope they don’t need to resort to more drastic measures – though given the severity of the Omicron surge, they might not be sure.
In Washington state, hospitals are congested but not enough for workers to be left without isolation for five days, state health minister Umair Shah told POLITICO last week. But that could change, he said. The staffing is precarious. “The next few weeks will be very difficult for our state,” he said.
Washington’s health centers generally allow employees who test positive to return after five days without a negative test, he said. According to a country spokesman, hospitals are not required to notify patients or other employees that an employee recently tested positive.
The hospitals’ decision not to require a negative test before returning is partly due to the nationwide lack of testing, according to Elnahal, Newark Hospital CEO, which does not require workers to test negative before returning after five days of isolation.
“We have long lines outside of our patient and family testing clinic, and if I had to continue testing my staff disproportionately to get them back to work, it would affect community access to testing,” he said.
Governors, including the governors of Arkansas, Georgia, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, have called up hundreds of National Guardsmen to assist hospitals even though they may not be medically trained, according to a National Guard spokesman.
Elnahal said his hospital has requested federal assistance, mostly from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, although he doubts the program will have any significant impact. “We are not optimistic that enough people from the federal government are available,” he said.
Some hospitals choose not to reduce staff isolation times even when labor shortages result in procedural cancellations. The University of Michigan Health has postponed more than 200 surgeries since December due to lack of available beds and staff shortages, according to a spokesman.
Maggie Frye, associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, said the shortage forced the hospital to postpone her 5-month-old son’s heart surgery, although it was later postponed and continued after much uncertainty.
The spokesman said Michigan Health has maintained its 10-day isolation requirement for employees who test positive. It does not intend to change its policy.
“If I was only speaking as a mother, I was relieved to hear this,” said Frye. “It would be very dangerous for my son to be exposed to Covid while he is recovering.”