The following statement can be attributed to HPAE President Debbie White, RN.
A second COVID-19 surge is now upon us here in New Jersey. It feels as if we are on a railroad track watching a speeding train hurtling toward us, knowing it will eventually hit us. Cases are trending up so quickly, it is absolutely terrifying. What is quickly becoming clear to us is that this surge will be much worse because we have a finite number of available staff and the rest of the country is surging at the same time.
Across New Jersey and across the country, we have not developed a standard pandemic plan. Therefore, it has been largely up to each employer to handle the crisis in whatever way they see fit. In the last surge we saw many employers fail to protect our healthcare workers. As a result, HPAE filed many OSHA complaints and received multiple citations across the state.
The win for us in any OSHA citation is the plan of correction. We had hoped to see changes this time as a result.
It is incredibly important to keep healthcare workers safe—not just because they will be in such short supply but because these are dedicated healthcare workers who deserve to be protected as they go to the front lines in this war. Who will care for the patients during this surge when healthcare workers contract COVID-19 and become ill? Protection of nurses and other healthcare workers is paramount.
Again, I can’t stress enough the issue of safety for healthcare workers. The sad truth is that we are hearing early reports that our nurses and other healthcare workers are testing positive for COVID-19 in the workplace. Some of the Intensive Care Units at HMH facilities, for instance, are reporting groups of infected nurses.
One of the more alarming things we are hearing about is that some hospitals are sending workers notifications that healthcare workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 patients but are asymptomatic must come to work.
How safe is this for patients and workers? How safe is this for a work environment?
The CDC recommends crisis staffing measures only after a number of contingency plans have been instituted. Calling in asymptomatic COVID-19 positive healthcare workers is a last resort measure and is only to be taken if the employer has developed and instituted a contingency plan.
I’m stressing developing contingency plans such as:
- Stopping visitation.
- Stopping elective surgeries.
- Developing alternate staffing plans.
- Offering bonuses to workers to work extra and overtime shifts.
These things are not being done and the state has yet to shut down elective surgeries or stop visitation. Instead, employers are simply relying on bringing in COVID-19 positive workers. How can this be safe for other staff or patients?
At the heart of this is the issue of protection of the front-line healthcare workers. If healthcare workers are not safe, patients, visitors and co-workers are not safe.
What is protection? We can start with respiratory protection. We’re already hearing reports of facilities not doing proper fit testing, not doing proper training, not providing genuine N95s respirators. We are seeing counterfeit masks represented as genuine respirators. Employers are not vetting the supplies they receive.
How many of our healthcare workers are getting ill? We’re not sure. No one is tracking this information.
Therefore, this information must be reported to the New Jersey Department of Health. We do know this information is not being tracked currently because neither the federal government nor the state has required the employers to do so.
We have a bill that has passed in the Senate requiring that this information be tracked by employers and reported to the New Jersey Department of Health. Which brings us to our data bill: A4129 would force employers to keep track of exposure and illness among healthcare workers and report them to the DOH. This has already passed in the Senate but is being held up in the Assembly.
Clearly healthcare workers are a population at risk. We need to protect them. We need to know the numbers of exposed and sick workers and we need to develop a state-wide, comprehensive plan holding all healthcare employers accountable.
Fore more information, contact: Michael Allen, (646) 436-7556