Healthcare Workers Say Hospitals Must Collaborate with Them to Prevent Spread of Coronavirus Among Patients, Workers

March 16, 2020

Healthcare workers say hospital administrators across California must collaborate with them to protect employees and patients against the spread of coronavirus, after more than 50 caregivers were sent home in recent weeks upon coming into contact with infected patients – including at least 10 caregivers at Parkview Community Hospital Medical Center in Riverside, Calif. where a patient with related symptoms was not put in isolation until the next day.

“Workers were allowed to come in contact for too many hours without wearing proper safety equipment, and as a result a large number of workers had to be sent home, putting us and our families at risk,” said John Richardson, a pathology assistant at Parkview Community Hospital Medical Center, who was one of the workers sent home, but returned to work a day later after it was determined that he had not been exposed. “If hospitals hope to get this crisis under control, they will need to immediately consult with and train their employees so the proper precautions are in place to protect workers, patients and the public.

Members of the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) say sending exposed workers home is the right thing to do but are calling on hospitals across the state to collaborate with workers and urgently act to avoid exposure and prepare for an increasing number of patients. The healthcare workers want to see:

        • regular communication between hospital leadership and employees and their representatives;
        • clear protocols for early assessment, masking and isolation of patients;  
        • training for employees involved in all aspects of care, including workers who directly care for patients as well as those who check them in, handle their food and laundry, and clean their rooms;
        • hospitals well supplied with personal protective equipment; and
        • hospitals staffed responsibly.

“We cannot have a situation in California where large numbers of workers are being sent home because of a lack of coordination and training with hospital management, especially if the number of cases continues to rise and we need all hands on deck,” said Richardson. “Hospital administrators cannot put their heads in the sand and ignore the expertise healthcare workers bring to the job and our strong desire to keep ourselves safe and healthy so we can treat our patients.”

The Parkview workers sent home include respiratory therapists, phlebotomists and a radiologic technician, all of whom came in contact with the patient after he was admitted Feb. 28. It is unclear why the hospital waited until at least the following day to put the patient in isolation. The workers will be off the job for 14 days if the patient’s coronavirus test comes back positive. Results are expected later this week.

At least ten workers at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View and Los Gatos were taken off the job Feb. 27; two workers at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles were quarantined March 3; ten workers at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville were isolated March 4; and thirty workers at Sutter Santa Rosa were quarantined March 5.

These incidents are likely to be only the tip of the iceberg in California as more reports come in about workers being sent home from healthcare facilities after being exposed to patients with the disease. The State of California declared a state of emergency March 4 to address the coronavirus spread.

“This is a solvable problem, and we know this because at places like Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Washington Hospital in Fremont and many Kaiser Permanente facilities across the state, protocols to protect workers, patients and the public have been put in place and are effective,” said Dave Regan, SEIU-UHW president. “When healthcare executives are serious and involve workers in putting precautions in place, it works.”

 

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