Hospital officials across the country have been saying they’re understaffed for months. Patient numbers have grown since COVID-19 began, and many hospital staff members have been fired for choosing to remain unvaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
Previous guidelines (and common sense) urged people with positive COVID tests to stay home from work until their symptoms cleared up and they received a negative test. But now, some hospitals are allowing employees with mild symptoms or even those who recently tested positive but were asymptomatic to return to work.
A nursing home in Rhode Island, the Respiratory and Rehabilitation Center, began allowing the latter and a spokesman for the Health Department said it is no longer facing a crisis. Hmmm. Maybe the nursing home is no longer facing a staffing shortage, but aren’t elderly people the demographic most affected by COVID-19? Look for case numbers to surge, restrictions to be tightened, staff to be cut, rinse and repeat.
Eleanor Slater Hospital, a state-run facility also in Rhode Island, declared a staff shortage crisis and allowed employees to return to work if they had only mild symptoms. So if your nurse is coughing over your bedside as you are treated for a broken arm, don’t be surprised if you get discharged with a case of COVID, too.
Allowing unvaccinated employees (who are largely healthy, by the way) to stay on the job seems like the wiser choice than permitting sick people to take care of other sick or injured people.
But some major hospitals are still sticking to their vaccine mandate policy. The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota recently fired 700 unvaccinated employees. They were aware of the staffing shortage, since the mass firing came a few weeks after other nurses begged hospital CEOs across the state to do something about the extreme staffing shortage.
The hospital issued a statement that read, “While Mayo Clinic is saddened to lose valuable employees, we need to take all steps necessary to keep our patients, workforce, visitors and communities safe. If individuals released from employment choose to get vaccinated at a later date, the opportunity exists for them to apply and return to Mayo Clinic for future job openings. While final numbers are still not available, nearly 99% of staff across all Mayo Clinic locations have complied with the required vaccination program, meaning they have been vaccinated or have received medical or religious exemptions.”
The 700 staff members fired make up about 1% of the medical center’s 73,000 total employees. Shortly before last Christmas, nurses from the Minnesota Nurses Association held a press conference asking hospital CEOS to take action regarding the staffing crisis. Nurses work long, hard shifts, and they pledged to continue showing up to work, even if they had to work even harder and longer hours than usual to make up for the shortage of employees.
“To our patients, I want to say this: Nurses will be here when you need us,” Mary C. Turner, union president and a COVID-19 intensive care unit nurse, said at the press conference. “To our hospital CEOs and elected officials, please hear us: Nurses need more than words, we need action to address the crisis of staffing and retention in Minnesota hospitals.”
The Mayo Clinic didn’t appear to listen to the nurses’ pleas, but will other medical facilities respond in a similar manner or support the continued employment of healthy, unvaccinated workers? Time will tell.