Maine Medical Center nurses call on hospital to keep COVID-19 protections

Nurses at Portland-based Maine Medical Center are calling on their employer to maintain COVID-19 protections put in place last year for caregivers amid the latest virus surge. 

The hospital is making two changes, according to a Sept. 2 statement. 

The first change involves workers who are exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. To align with Occupational and Health Administration standards, workers who must quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure identified by hospital contact tracers as having occurred outside the hospital must either work from home or use paid time off until the individual is cleared to work, the hospital said. The hospital will no longer pay quarantine pay out of its own pocket (without using paid time off) to workers exposed outside the hospital. But the hospital said it will still provide quarantine pay out of its own pocket for workers who quarantine as the result of a workplace exposure.

For workers who test positive for COVID-19, the hospital will still pay quarantine pay out of its own pocket, regardless of where the person was exposed. 

MaineHealth and Maine Medical Center will also, as of Oct. 1, stop sending employees home with pay after the 37th week of pregnancy through the time they give birth. The hospital said employees may continue to work after the 37th week of pregnancy as their individual conditions allow, in line with the latest clinical guidance.

Maine Medical Center said nurses at the hospital were notified in June and July of the two pending changes and did not make their opposition known until Aug. 27, after the hospital communicated the forthcoming changes to managers on Aug. 19.

The hospital said it has not changed policies governing medical accommodations in the workplace for employees in terms of treating COVID-19 patients. However, nurses at Maine Medical Center, who voted in April to join the Maine State Nurses Association, expressed concerns.

"If we start taking steps backward, we will leave the door open to further harm, and to the depletion of our workforce and our ability to care for all the patients who come to us from many different parts of our state," Jonica Frank, RN in the operating room, said in a union news release. "Our employer must continue all the protections it has made to front-line employees, especially those who become ill, those who are vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, and, of course, the pregnant nurses and other caregivers who are at advanced stages of their pregnancies." 

The changes come as new daily COVID-19 hospitalization rates in the U.S. climbed 3 percent over the last two weeks, according to data tracked by The New York Times. In Maine, new daily COVID-19 hospitalization rates have increased 33 percent during that time period.

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