COVID-19 positive care facility workers allowed to continue working as last resort

Published: Nov. 21, 2020 at 12:52 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - New guidelines for health care workers at nursing homes allow them to stay on the job as a last resort even if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

The idea was to allow care facilities that were limited with the number of healthy staff, to continue working; it was something some care facilities said they needed.

“We can go visit my dad, but we haven’t been able to because of COVID-19,” Linnea Johnson-Scott, of Okoboji, said. “We haven’t seen him since February.”

Johnson-Scott’s 104-year-old father lives at Meth-Wick in Cedar Rapids. She said she appreciates the care he has gotten, but was concerned about new guidelines which allowed for workers who had tested positive for COVID 19 to stay on the job if the facility was short-staffed.

“It has come to this point that, as a last resort, we have to have the people that sacrificed so much already now be called upon when they were gravely ill themselves,” Johnson-Scott said.

Meth-Wick told KCRG-TV9 it has not needed to take that last resort step allowed by the state and is not letting sick staff care for patients.

Those in the health care field agree the policy is concerning, but all care facilities faced nursing shortages pre-COVID-19, and the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. Alan Fairbanks, the Executive Vice President of Bickford Senior Living in Iowa City, said this state change aligns more with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“You’re wearing appropriate PPE, so the risk of infection is going to be mitigated from the proper PPE,” Fairbanks said. “It isn’t ideal, certainly, but it’s not going to be the first line of defense.”

Fairbanks oversees 62 facilities across the United States and 14 in Iowa, including in Iowa City. He said staffing issues had gotten so short at other facilities that they did have to ask nurses who were ill to care for patients.

“It worked well,” Fairbanks said. “No other infections came as a result of that, and the caregivers wanted to come back to work to provide care.”

While the thought of someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 caring for Johnson-Scott’s father was frightening for her, she said all she wanted was for the best care for her father, and the staff treated well.

“It has to be the last resort, asymptomatic, and that they want to do it,” Johnson-Scott said. “They should also have the family’s blessing. I mean, it’s sort of the ultimate sacrifice to keep asking for our caregivers over and over again to do things that some of us would never do for another person.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to specifically note that Meth-Wick is not allowing sick staff to care for residents, which is allowed as a last resort under Iowa and CDC guidelines. KCRG does not know of any long-term care facility currently opting for that last resort option for staffing.

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