Rantz: MultiCare hospitals order symptomatic COVID-positive staff to see patients

MultiCare Health Systems is ordering symptomatic, COVID-positive staff to work at its area hospitals, the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH has learned. Officials with the organization are refusing to comment.

According to an internal memo dated January 6, MultiCare hospitals have moved into “crisis levels of staffing.” The impetus for the move was the rise in hospital visits, though not all due to COVID.

Consequently, the hospitals modified their return-to-work process, ordering staff “to work even if they are experiencing mild symptoms but are improving.” But a MultiCare staffer claimed unless a staffer has a fever, “they want us coming in.” It’s unclear if COVID-positive staff are even disclosing their status to patients or coworkers.

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At a January 6 press conference, MultiCare’s chief quality, safety, and nursing officer June Altaras addressed reporters on the state’s hospital staffing crisis.

She described a quicker turnaround time for COVID-positive staffers to return to work, “so that we can appropriately bring back employees a bit sooner so we can continue to deliver the standard of care we expect for all of our patients.”

But MultiCare announced that same day, in an internal all-staff memo obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, that the hospital was bringing back staff who are both COVID-positive and experiencing symptoms.

“Under these guidelines, some staff may return to work even if they are experiencing mild symptoms but are improving,” Altaras and David Carlson, DO, SVP & Chief Physician Officer, wrote.

There are eight total MultiCare hospitals in the Puget Sound region, with locations in Tacoma, Olympia, Covington, Auburn, Puyallup, and Seattle.

Who comes back to work?

A chart attached to the memo, titled, “Management of COVID-exposed and COVID-positive staff during crisis staffing level,” explained who would come back to the hospitals and under what circumstances.

Staff who test positive for COVID, regardless of vaccination status, may return to work. They’re allowed to treat patients.

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According to the chart, “Positive staff with mild to moderate illness” may work so long as they wear appropriate PPE, do not take breaks with others, and agree to stay home “if symptoms worsen.” The acceptable PPE is N95 masks.

The chart explains:

IF working with patients:
Do NOT assign to care for immunocompromised.

-Prioritize patient assignments in this order as possible:
1) COVID positive /COVID rule out patients
2) vaccinated patients
3) all other patients.

Managers may choose to make other exceptions based on patient risk and staff availability.

If their symptoms “develop” they are to be sent home. If that doesn’t happen, managers must “monitor that staff wear appropriate PPE/source control.”

“If possible, assign to non-clinical role,” managers are told.

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Hospital spokesperson refuses to comment, staff express concern

The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH reached out to MultiCare for comment five times. Roughly nine hours later, spokesperson Holly Harvey emailed to explain she would not submit a comment by the 5:30pm deadline.

CDC guidelines permit healthcare workers who are COVID-positive to work without restrictions if they are in a staffing crisis. However, the following criteria must be met for a staff member to return to work while COVID-positive: at least five days have passed since symptoms first appeared, the healthcare worker has been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the assistance of a fever-reducing medication, and their symptoms have improved.

But MultiCare would not provide data on the current bed usage at their hospitals to explain why staffing is considered at crisis levels. But MultiCare would not provide data on the current bed usage at their hospitals to explain why staffing is considered at crisis levels. They also would not confirm how many healthcare staff were fired due to Governor Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate. It was implemented to stop the spread of COVID from staffer to staffer and from staff and patient.

Some MultiCare staffers are concerned they are exposing patients to COVID. According to multiple studies, the omicron variant is mild but spreads very easily. And according to the MultiCare memo, fitted N95 masks are not always required to be worn.

A source who works for MultiCare, who asked to remain anonymous, tells KTTH sister-station KIRO Radio that employees are upset.

“You could be dizzy, coughing, whatever. Any other symptom aside from a fever, they want us coming in,” the source said.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3–6 pm on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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