CRANSTON — Faced with potential staff shortages, the state hospital has allowed “close contacts” of Covid-infected patients and staff to continue working.
In an exchange of emails late last week, a spokesman for the state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital acknowledged to The Journal that exposed workers were still on the job while awaiting their own test results.
He also acknowledged the case count in this latest outbreak had grown.
As of last Thursday, spokesman Randal Edgar said, there were 12 patients and 32 staff who were “positive and in quarantine.”
As of Tuesday, Edgar said, there were 14 COVID-positive patients, including “one who is in acute care in another hospital,’ and 35 infected staffers.
Asked if exposed staff were allowed to work while awaiting their own test results, he said the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) policy allows them to do so.
“Per RIDOH, health-care workers are considered critical infrastructure workers. They can work after being a close contact, provided that they take certain measures:
“They must wear a surgical/N 95 mask or better while at work,” he said. “They must monitor for symptoms and take their temperature every four hours while at work.”
“While they are allowed to work, they must go home and quarantine at home immediately after their work shift,” he added. “They cannot go out in the community and participate in any extracurricular activities.”
“If they are symptomatic or become symptomatic, they must leave work or stay home and schedule a test.”
Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken affirmed the policy: “Yes, healthcare workers are considered critical infrastructure workers. If a critical staffing need exists, they can work,” provided that they take the measures Edgar listed.
The staffing pressure clearly extends beyond the state-run hospital campuses in Cranston and Burrillville.
In an interview with The Journal earlier this week about staffing shortages, Lifespan president and CEO Dr. Timothy J. Babineau said:
“The predominant challenge we’re having is the number of people who simply have to stay home because either, one, they have mild symptoms of something and we tell people you can’t come to work if you have so much as a sniffle; or, number two, they’ve been exposed to somebody” who is sick, Babineau said.
“They now have to quarantine 14 days. They just have to stay home. So with the ubiquitous nature of the virus – it’s really, as you know, spreading like wildfire – the chance that our staff are going to bump into somebody who has it has gone up exponentially.”
The state hospital faces the same challenges.
Elaborating on his earlier statement about “close contacts” working, Edgar said, the term “exposed” includes “even then most minimal of exposures.”
“Close contacts are those believed to have a higher probability of becoming infected based on the exposure they had to someone with the illness.
“There have been rare cases where a close contact…