They aren’t new, in fact they were updated in July, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus guidelines on working in health care facilities has one Illinois nursing home under investigation, FOX8 reported.
According to one anonymous employee at Stearns Nursing and Rehab in Madison County, Illinois, health providers there are told they could keep working even if they have the coronavirus. Another two employees at the NHC HealthCare Greenwood senior care facility in South Carolina who tested positive for COVID-19 were also asked to return to work shortly after receiving their results, the Index-Journal reported.
Nursing homes have been the source of many outbreaks across the country, as well as the homes to some of the most vulnerable individuals to the disease. But no one is breaking any rules because the CDC allows it.
According to the agency, their “last resort” suggestions that give coronavirus-positive employees the OK to work with the elderly exist in the event of staff shortages, which they say is likely to occur during the pandemic as infections rise and “is essential to providing a safe work environment for [health care providers] and safe patient care.”
“If, despite efforts to mitigate, [health care provider] staffing shortages occur, health care systems, facilities, and the appropriate state, local, territorial, and/or tribal health authorities might determine that HCP with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 could return to work before the full Return to Work Criteria have been met,” the CDC says.
The criteria to return to work is now based on symptoms, not a secondary test, as of over a month ago when those guidelines received their own makeover. Americans who receive a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result can continue working 10 days after their symptoms began, and if their fever has disappeared for at least 24 hours without the use of medications.
The guidelines are not so black and white, however. Here’s what the exceptions and recommendations look like, in order, when there’s not enough providers to care for patients in health care facilities, including nursing homes.
If there are staff shortages in health care facilities …
- Transfer COVID-19 patients to alternate care sites with “adequate staffing.”
- If an employee is confirmed positive or suspected to have the coronavirus and “are well enough and willing to work” yet have not met the return-to-work criteria, allow them to work but restrict them from “severely” immunocompromised patients.
- Allow these same employees to work but don’t let them interact with others, such as in telemedicine services.
- Allow these same employees to work only with other COVID-19 patients in a “cohort setting.”
- Allow these same employees to provide care for patients suspected of having the coronavirus.
- ”As a last resort,” allow these same employees to provide care for patients without suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
The CDC says these guidelines can be adapted by state and local health departments to fit their specific circumstances during the pandemic.
It’s unclear what conditions the employees at the Illinois center were expected to work under, and if they had staffing shortages. But when local reporters asked if other employees there are working while infected, a director pointed them to the CDC, according to FOX8.
McClatchy News attempted to confirm details with the nursing home over the phone but an employee who answered said, “I have no comment on that.”
Meanwhile, the South Carolina facility told the Index-Journal that “negative patients are not treated by positive employees,” NHC Greenwood corporate Director of Business Development Casey Reese told the outlet in an email.
“No positive employees showing symptoms return to work until they recover per CDC guidelines. Our units are completely separate with dedicated staffing wearing proper personal protective equipment. Our partners’ teamwork and adaptability through this fluid situation is truly remarkable.”