Washington state nurses seek greater transparency about coronavirus, union says

A union representing 19,000 nurses in Washington state is calling for more transparency on the novel coronavirus and proper quarantine procedures amid a major outbreak in the state.

As of the morning of March 5, 10 COVID-19 deaths were confirmed in Washington State's Snohomish and King counties, with 39 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the Washington State Department of Public Health. EvergreenHealth, Overlake Medical Center, Virginia Mason Health System and Life Care Center, a nursing home, have all treated patients with COVID-19. The organizations are in and around the Seattle area.

At Kirkland, Wash.-based EvergreenHealth, nurses potentially exposed to COVID-19 report that they are not receiving timely responses from the health system's healthcare benefits program or are getting conflicting instructions on whether they should quarantine themselves, said Ruth Schubert, communications director for the Washington State Nurses Association, which represents more than 1,000 nurses at EvergreenHealth.

She said more than 20 nurses at EvergreenHealth have notified the union as of March 4 that they have been furloughed or told to stay home, and nurses also report that they were told to self-quarantine but then were called back to their jobs.

Nurses told the union they remain concerned about protocols for assessing exposure to coronavirus and hospital procedures for determining whether a nurse or other caregiver should self-monitor or be placed in quarantine.

EvergreenHealth has been communicating with employees regularly about the protocols the health system is following under the CDC's guidance, and establishing systems for notifying people potentially affected by the virus as quickly as possible. 

"We are in the process of sharing instructions with these employees for determining their personal risk. For those who meet the clinical criteria for testing, we are offering a special drive-up testing location that allows employees access to testing while minimizing the risk of exposure to others," the system said in a statement to Becker's Hospital Review.

"In the event that employees meet the requirements for quarantine, we recognize the burden that places on our employees, and they will not need to use their sick time or paid time off during that time. Instead, we will work with those affected to provide other paid benefits to ensure they're compensated during that time," EvergreenHealth added. The union supports those effort.

The Washington State Hospital Association, which represents hospitals statewide, acknowledged the desire for information amid an evolving situation.

Cassie Sauer, the association's president and CEO, told Becker's Hospital Review that hospitals are following CDC guidance, which is constantly changing.

"An overarching issue is folks wanting to know exactly who got exposed, how do you get exposed, who can be contagious at what point, and the exactness is not known. That I understand is frustrating and scary," said Ms. Sauer.

She also noted that it is hugely in hospitals' interest to keep their staff protected and healthy, so they have a strong workforce, and said there has been a lot of communication with hospitals from the state's public health department as it manages the outbreak.

Overall, she said hospitals are trying to respond as best they can and are changing their practices as more information is available.


More articles on workforce:

Kaiser hospital in Oregon quarantines dozens of employees due to coronavirus
How Baystate's revamped social recognition program cut staff turnover
'Don't panic' workers about coronavirus, employment attorney says

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