Amid California coronavirus outbreak, hospital workers say they are unprotected

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Nguyen’s case is an example cited in the union’s complaint against Fountain Valley. Another concerns a radiology assistant whose immediate family members have contracted the coronavirus.

On June 16, according to the radiology assistant, he informed the management of his exposure to his sick relatives. According to the union, the hospital told him to continue working as usual, interacting with his colleagues and transporting patients to the facility.

Nine days later, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to hospital, according to the union’s complaint to the state. He had potentially exposed an unknown number of patients and other employees to the coronavirus, the complaint says, but the hospital did not conduct a full contact tracing.

Colleagues in the radiology aide learned of his coronavirus infection when they saw him being admitted to the emergency room, said Joshua Jesus, a radiology technician, who was working with the aid. Hospital management and human resources offices did not explain their contact tracing policies, Jesus said.

Fountain Valley said it had had ongoing conversations with the union about employee concerns and was following CDC guidelines to advise show staff members “if they were not wearing their PPE properly. and had prolonged close contact ”with a patient.

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Contact tracing is a labor-intensive ordeal in hospitals which may have three dozen departments, and this is just one of many obstacles to security measures demanded by unions. The limited availability of protective equipment has made it necessary to lock down supplies so that hospitals do not run out of them. And hospital executives say they have limited capacity to handle coronavirus testing internally, so many prioritize patients over staff members who have been exposed but are not showing symptoms. .

“Given some of the issues that hospitals face, they may decide that maybe it would be best to let someone quarantine at home and assume they have it,” said Mark Brown. , head nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, which offers testing for everyone. the employees who want them.

Other hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area have also tested their workers. Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto tested about 17,000 employees from March through May and performed 13,000 additional tests on workers during the summer. The Santa Clara County Health System performed more than 10,000 tests on employees at three public hospitals from late April to mid-July to catch asymptomatic carriers.

But these are outliers in the state.

Part of the problem, said Dr. Jahan Fahimi, an emergency physician at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, is that there is no national screening strategy.

“And as a result,” Fahimi said, “every county, every health system has been left to develop its own strategy. This has a few drawbacks – one being that you have to make tough decisions about allocations which are getting scarce. In an ideal world, we would do surveillance tests on an ongoing basis – a rotating schedule so that all healthcare workers detect positives before treating other patients. ”

Healthcare workers outside of California interviewed by NBC News say they face similar obstacles. A nurse in Kansas City, Missouri, said workers were only allowed one N95 mask per day. A Miami nurse said her hospital even refused to provide the number of staff who tested positive. The Washington State Nursing Association said it had approached the state Department of Health for information to no avail; the department said hospitals had not provided it with the number of health workers infected with COVID-19.

Hospitals in New York faced similar complaints from nurses during the spike in COVID-19 cases in April – which should have prompted hospitals elsewhere to implement protections for their health workers, nurses said.

A survey of 21,200 nurses by the National Nurses United in July found that 87% had to reuse personal protective equipment, half say their hospitals are trying to clean single-use masks and only a quarter think their employers provide safe workplaces.

Members of National Nurses United demonstrate behind empty shoes representing nurses who died of COVID-19 in Lafayette Park opposite the White House on May 7.Fichier Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The likelihood of testing positive for coronavirus has increased for frontline healthcare workers who have had to reuse protective equipment, according to a study published on July 31. This has a disproportionate impact on black, Latino and Asian healthcare workers, the study showed, because they were more likely to have inadequate personal protective equipment.

Coronavirus safety protocols elsewhere in the country largely depend on each hospital; few states have published rules dictating the steps medical facilities must take to protect frontline healthcare workers. Instead, hospitals figured it out for themselves, taking inspiration from the non-binding guidance issued by the CDC. Some healthcare professionals say this has largely left them to fend for themselves.

“It takes me back to when I was taking care of an AIDS patient, and I wouldn’t know I had an active AIDS patient until I walked into the room and the patient told me. say, ”said Lynda Pond, president of the Oregon Nurses Association, who said several hospitals in the state refused to notify staff when the patients they were caring for tested positive.

Pennsylvania has taken a different approach.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has ordered hospitals to notify staff members within 24 hours of exposure to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, to test those employees on demand, and to replace masks when workers determine that they are damaged or ineffective. The ministry said it implemented the ordinance after receiving complaints about the workplaces from health workers.

In California, hospital workers are hopeful that Governor Newsom will issue similar rules, because as it stands, the rules on who to be tested in hospitals are “virtually non-existent,” Early said of the National. Union of Healthcare Workers.

“It’s a very big risk for patients and healthcare workers,” Early said. “This lack of regulation gives hospitals carte blanche. “

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