Health care workers are panicked as desperate hospitals ask infected staff to return
Taken from Politico
By Rachel Levy
January 10, 2022
Hospitals and long-term care facilities are so short staffed that many are compelling Covid-positive doctors and nurses to return to work, arguing that bringing back asymptomatic or even symptomatic staff is the only way they can keep their doors open amid a spike in hospitalizations.
The practice, allowed by the most recent CDC guidance, underscores the dire situation in which many facilities find themselves as more than 120,000 people nationwide are now hospitalized with the virus — almost three times the total from Thanksgiving when Omicron was first detected.
“We don’t have good choices — or the choices that we want,” said Shereef Elnahal, the CEO of University Hospital in Newark, N.J. and the state’s former health commissioner. “Our staffing situation has been the worst it’s been since the spring of 2020.” Three hundred of his 3,700 workers are out, many infected with Covid-19.
While most health workers are vaccinated, many are still falling sick, exacerbating a staff shortage as more Americans seek hospital care. The reliance on employees who may still be infectious comes despite objections from nurses‘ unions and the American Medical Association, which warned the decision puts patients’ health and safety at risk. And there are no requirements that patients be notified if their caregiver is sick.
Still, the practice is happening across the country. In New Jersey, a nurse was recently instructed to come to work despite concerns that she had contracted Covid-19, according to a union representative. In Rhode Island, a nursing home and state-run hospital system recently used workers who tested positive after the state updated its guidelines in accordance with the CDC. In Missouri, a hospital is bringing back nurses after five days as long as they are asymptomatic. Health care workers around the country have reported that they are being called in to work even if they suspect they are infectious.
“It’s comparable to March, April, May 2020. I have not seen health care workers as panicked as they are now since that time,” said Debbie White, a registered nurse and president of New Jersey’s largest health care union, HPAE, which opposes the CDC’s guidance.
In interviews with several hospital executives, health care workers and health officials, nearly all said they are following the CDC’s new advice. That guidance, released last month, allows facilities to bring back workers after five days of isolation, instead of 10, without a negative Covid-19 test. In cases where workforce shortages become extreme, hospitals can bring back staff without any isolation period.