Nurses angry B.C. considering letting COVID-sick health-care employees work

B.C. nurses can’t imagine that some of their own could be allowed to come to work with COVID symptoms and are angry at the suggestion made by the province.

This week the top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said the province is considering allowing health-care workers with mild symptoms to stay on the job in order to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed.

Henry added that this option is one the province will need to weigh as it thinks about “business continuity.”

However, BC Nurses Union Interim Vice President Danette Thompsen says she was “gobsmacked” to hear the province was even considering the move.

“Nurses are not robots. They are human beings, and I’m telling them to take the time they need. They are professionals, and they know when they’re fit to come to work. They know when they’re sick, and they shouldn’t be at work. So their clinical judgment needs to be used as they always do and respected by the rest of the decision-makers,” she explains.

Thompson says she can’t imagine having staff with COVID symptoms at work, especially when there are measures to think of first, like hiring more staff and checking vaccine passports at hospitals from essential and regular visitors.

“There’s hospitals still not checking regular visitors, vaccine passports … We need to be reducing every mode of transmission that we can to support the doctors, the nurses that care staff, the cleaners, everybody so can stay healthy and stay in the workforce.”

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This suggestion makes Thompsen worried especially because someone who may have mild symptoms could spread it to someone that has a different reaction, “and that potentially could take another nurse out of the workforce.”

“Our nurses are exhausted, they’re burnt out, and we need to be doing everything we can to keep them healthy and safe in the workplace now,” she said.

B.C., like other provinces, is considering this idea in an effort to keep the health care system from collapsing as COVID-19 cases surge.

If someone is sick with COVID-19 or other illnesses, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reiterated, “we don’t want them in a workplace setting,” because of the risk it could spread to others.

“But there are certain settings where we need to make sure that we have that balancing of continuity of care,” she said.

“We need to look at what are the measures that need to be in place to ensure that particularly people who have very mild illness or are asymptomatic, are able to safely do work in those workplaces if needed.”

Thompson says she understands the health-care system is at a critical point because “they are critical.” However, she says nurses have told her they’re so angry that this would even be being considered.

“We have hospitals that have two nurses, taking care of 22 patients currently. Things are critical but keeping those two nurses safe and healthy, providing the PPE they need, ensuring that if that nurse actually really wants to wear an N95 that she has one available, or he, and they can wear that mask. Those are the things we need the government to be doing right now.”

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