Healthcare workers at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, California who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been exposed to the virus will no longer be asked to return to work immediately while asymptomatic.
The Prime Healthcare-operated hospital reversed a policy this week under which asymptomatic employees could be asked to go back to work without observing quarantine or isolation periods or receiving a negative COVID-19 test. Instead, the hospital will follow the CDC's most recent guidelines, which recommend that healthcare workers who are asymptomatic can return to work after five days of isolation, a Prime Healthcare spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said St. Francis Medical Center's previous policy was in keeping with Jan. 8 temporary guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health that allowed hospitals and skilled nursing facilities to bring back asymptomatic and exposed workers without isolation, quarantine or testing through Feb. 1 to mitigate staffing shortages during the omicron surge.
SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents about 800 employees at the hospital, alleged that nearly every hospital in California but St. Francis Medical Center had chosen not to follow the state public health department's new guidance and instead requiring testing, quarantine and isolation for workers who were exposed or contracted COVID-19.
The Prime Healthcare spokesperson said that under the previous policy, workers were asked but never required to return to work while asymptomatic. Of the hospital's roughly 2,000 employees, five were asked to return to ]work without observing quarantine or isolation periods, the spokesperson said.
In an emailed statement, a Prime Healthcare spokesperson said St. Francis Medical Center "continues to follow all CDPH and CDC guidelines."
"Effective immediately, healthcare staff testing positive for COVID who are asymptomatic should follow quarantine protocols before returning to work. Workers who test positive and are symptomatic should remain quarantined and not report to work," the statement reads. "St. Francis continues to institute all safety standards and measures to mitigate staffing shortages, including on-site testing and contact tracing, as we continue to care for patients during this surge."
The Prime Healthcare spokesperson did not say if other hospitals within the system would have a similar policy change.
SEIU-UHW workers at St. Francis Medical Center held a protest Wednesday outside of the hospital to demand they not be required to go back to work after testing positive for COVID-19 or being exposed to the virus without testing or isolation periods.
"Thanks to SEIU-UHW members protesting and holding Prime Healthcare accountable to worker and patient safety, and the support of U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragan, St. Francis Medical Center announced they will no longer pressure COVID-positive caregivers to work," said Renée Saldaña, a spokesperson for SEIU-UHW.
The Prime Healthcare spokesperson said the hospital and the union came to an agreement to change the policy before the protest.
Healthcare workers across the country have challenged the new CDC guidelines that allow asymptomatic healthcare workers to return to work after five days of quarantine or isolation, saying they put patients and healthcare workers at risk.