Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News
In an effort to maintain safe staffing ratios, hospital administrators are creating policies that allow COVID-infected staff members to work if they are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms. This decision is in response to staffing shortages from vaccine mandates, increasing caseload, and staff members that are out sick. Hospitals in California, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania are just a few states that are making this allowance, even though many healthcare facilities are reporting 99% compliance with vaccine mandates.
Hospital policy is supported by recent CDC changes to guidance on quarantine and isolation, allowing for asymptomatic staff to return to work after 7 days and a negative test; however, it allows for isolation to be reduced if there are staffing shortages. What science supports having nurses infected with a deadly virus go to work and care for the most vulnerable in our society? David Asman, a reporter and writer for Fox Business News tweeted, “This is insane. Vaccine mandates caused dangerous staff shortages at hospitals. So now those hospitals are allowing COVID-infected staff to fill the void.”
These staff members are required to wear an N-95 respirator and PPE, and in severe short staffing cases positive staff members may work with COVID-positive patients, but if needed they could care for any patients. The National Nurses United president Zenei Triunfo-Cortez said in a statement that the new guidelines are an effort to continue “business operations, revenues, and profits, without regard for science or the health of employees and the public.”
The California Nurses Association has fought against this policy decision, warning health leaders and Governor Gavin Newsom that this will put patients at risk and lead to more infections. Cathy Kennedy, the president of the association, said these leaders “are putting the needs of health care corporations before the safety of patients and workers.” She also added that “we want to care for our patients and see them get better — not potentially infect them… If we get sick, who will be left to care for our patients and community?”
Just months after Rhode Island enforced a vaccination mandate on healthcare workers as a condition to maintain employment in the state and resulting in hundreds of workers being fired for noncompliance, the state is allowing employees infected with COVID-19 to work in the event of a staffing crisis. State Senator Jessica de la Cruz criticized the decision, tweeting, “another mindless draconian policy that is literally costing lives and worsening Rhode Island’s healthcare crisis.”
Some states, like New York, have had to call in the National Guard to address their staffing shortage after firing thousands of healthcare workers who refused to be vaccinated. This resulted in hospitals that were already short staffed to lose as much as 5% of their workforce.
Healthcare facilities have fired valuable and skilled employees and continue to do so and have the power of the Supreme Court ruling to uphold a portion of President Biden’s vaccine mandate. However, the question remains, why are healthy, unvaccinated staff members being fired while infected nurses can come to work, potentially spreading the virus and causing hospital-acquired infections in highly susceptible patient populations?