Nurses told to use sick or vacation days if they need to stay home with COVID

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“You’re talking about a group of people who sat at bedsides — not one a night, multiple, because we were consistently losing people. We were holding the iPads as people said their last goodbyes. I can’t tell you how sick it makes me now being called a hero, because that’s not how we’re being treated by our employers.”

Those are the words of Ana Bergeron, a registered nurse and union affiliate president who spoke with NBC News about a new edict stating that nurses must use their own sick and vacation days to remain home and quarantined if they contract COVID-19.

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It’s a new regulation that’s being enacted all over the country, just as the highly-contagious omicron variant begins to spread rapidly across the nation.

NBC News reviewed a number of internal memos that stated the new policy as well as others, such as nurses being told to forego quarantining and return to work if they prove to be asymptomatic.

“Healthcare providers (HCP) who test positive for Covid-19 and are asymptomatic may return to work immediately without isolation and without testing,” read a memo sent by St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, California. “These healthcare providers must wear an N95 respirator for source control. The HCP may be assigned to Covid-19 positive patients if possible.”

That facility responded that they are simply following guidance from the California Department of Public Health.

“At St. Francis Medical Center, employees who fall under this criteria may choose to return to work or follow the guidelines for sick leave as set forth in their collective bargaining agreement,” spokesperson Chris Yarnovich told NBC. “St.
Francis continues to institute all safety standards and measures to mitigate staffing shortages as we continue to care for patients during this surge.”

President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan provided an extension to former President Donald Trump’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act. That law extended incentives for giving employees COVID-induced paid family leave to any company with fewer than 500 employees. But that law expired in September.

Other similar laws intended to incentivize paid leave for employees who test positive for COVID have also been allowed to expire.

That poses a problem for healthcare workers who have suffered through multiple positive COVID diagnoses due to the hazards of caring for COVID-positive patients.

“Whether you have separate banks of vacation and sick leave or a combined bank, utilizing hours over and over again for this Covid pandemic is very disconcerting,” Denise Duncan, president of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals told NBC. “Some of our workers’ banks have been depleted, meaning less time off for other things. There needs to be work-life balance.”

For medical workers who were hailed as heroes just a year ago, the new declaration is proving to be a tough pill to swallow.

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