The head of OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington says staffing remains "solid" despite the need for increased personnel to care for more coronavirus patients.
OSF President Lynn Fulton said the health care system relies on overtime, workers shifting between departments and contract employees to fill the added shifts.
“I’m not going to tell you it’s easy,” Fulton conceded. “One of the nice things about being part of a ministry is that we do have plans in place to address staff shortages.”
OSF and Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal say employees who have been exposed to the coronavirus still have to work unless they show COVID symptoms. They say they are following federal guidance. The CDC allowed for that in the spring after it determined the coronavirus was largely transmitted through the air rather than on surfaces.
“Like other industries we’re seeing an increase in the number of employees infected with COVID-19 as the virus spreads throughout our community. Currently, about 4% of our workforce is affected,” said Laurie Round, chief nursing officer for Carle BroMenn. “Carle is increasing our use of PPE and utilizing prompt identification of potential exposure and access to fast test results within 24-36 hours."
Fulton said OSF staff wears PPE at all times to keep from infecting others. That includes masks, face shields and eye protection.
“We come in contact with communicable disease all the time, and if we quarantined for everything we came in contact with, we wouldn’t have anybody to work,” Fulton said.
Fulton acknowledged health care staff could potentially spread the virus when they are not at work, but she said wearing a mask can reduce the that risk by 85%. That’s according to a World Health Organization study.
“This is why staying home and minimizing contact with others and wearing a mask are so vital to getting a handle on the pandemic,” Round said.
OSF and Carle BroMenn say all employees must pass a daily health screening when they come to work.
Fulton said staff turnover has remained steady during the pandemic, but she still worries about losing staff, given the demands health care workers face.
“Caring for individuals with this virus and seeing it day in and day out and how it can really take a toll and then hearing about it all the time out in the public, I think it’s really hard for health care workers to turn it off,” she said.
Many health care workers may not get much down time during the holidays approach. Many won't get to see loved ones--and many will be working to care for others. Fulton said she told her parents in Macomb she will have to video conference with them instead this year, noting her father has some health conditions.
“I look at him and say if he would catch this and become critical, I’m not sure we’ll have a bed for him, so where is he going to go, who is going to take care of him?” Fulton asked. “People should be having those discussions in each of their households.”
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