Nurses with SEIU 721 on Tuesday urged LA County officials to protect healthcare workers and patients following the recent release of a dangerous state guidance permitting hospitals and other health facilities to force COVID-positive staff back to work without isolation periods or testing.
In a morning press conference at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, the nurses said County leaders must ensure there is testing and isolation for healthcare workers infected with COVID-19 — and those exposed to the virus — and to adopt other common-sense measures to keep staff and patients safe.
On January 8, the California Department of Public Health released a guidance allowing hospitals and other health facilities to bring staff back to work immediately after they have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed. Under the guidelines, which will be in effect until Feb. 1, healthcare workers are only permitted to return if they are asymptomatic — and they must also wear N95 face masks and should only work with patients who are also infected.
Still, the state’s standard endangers healthcare workers and patients who would be exposed to staff known to be infected with COVID-19 — right as the state and LA County faces an unprecedented surge in cases because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
“When you are positive, whether you have symptoms or not, you have the pathogen and you can spread the pathogen,” said Ileana Meza, a registered nurse practitioner at LAC + USC Medical Center and an SEIU 721 member, at the press conference. “This decision is not the right decision. Right now, healthcare workers more than ever before are seeing an overwhelming burden.”
At Tuesday’s press conference, nurses also called for the cancellation of non-critical healthcare procedures and elective surgeries, tighter controls on visitation, extended paid sick leave, and for the County to end its overreliance on private registries to fill staffing shortages. Instead, the nurses urged the County to invest in the recruitment and retention of frontline healthcare professionals after years of inadequate staffing.
“We’ve got to plan ahead and make sure our future is secured,” said Kelly Zhou, a nurse anesthetist at LAC + USC Medical Center and an SEIU 721 member. “Our communities’ health is our number one concern. We’re asking the Board of Supervisors to do the right thing.”
According to recent reports, private hospitals in LA County have been turning away patients due to capacity issues, straining public hospitals that are already facing rampant staffing shortages.
“It’s time to recognize that years and years of short-staffing in County departments is coming home to roost, not just in Health Services, but at DCFS, DPSS, and many more,” said David Green, president of SEIU 721. “We can’t short-staff departments, contract out work to private corporations, and depend on nurse registries and traveling nurses and expect to weather a crisis like this.”