With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, self-isolation and lockdown measures against the coronavirus have rendered some of the United States’ cities eerily quiet.
And while some industries can send their employees home to work and self-isolate, this is not the case in the healthcare sector. Healthcare workers are needed now more than ever.
At the same time, healthcare workers are one of the most at-risk groups of employees across all industries.
Because of this, leadership in the healthcare sector must stay informed on key risks to health workers as well as virus control strategies to keep staff and patients safe. Read on to learn more.
Health Workers Have One of the Highest Exposure Rates to Confirmed Cases
Reports state that healthcare workers, thanks to their high level of exposure to COVID-19 cases, have one of the highest risks of contracting the virus out of all sectors.
Coupled with this is the fact that many health workers are facing burnout and fatigue as a result of the heightened load placed on health care systems. Heighten worry about bringing the virus into their home and exposing their families is an added burden on already stressed healthcare workers.
Numerous health care workers, from nurses to doctors and receptionists, are likely to have contact with confirmed cases. Other medical staff who are not at risk of direct exposure are also, in turn, placed at risk from exposure to co-workers who might have contracted the virus.
Because health care workers are at such high risk, management of health care organizations must work towards keeping staff safe and implementing thorough sterilization protocols.
How to Implement Virus Control for Health Workers
Virus control and education are crucial to reducing risk for health workers. Although healthcare and medical environments are inherently focused on high levels of sterilization, these facilities need to take additional precautions and set in place COVID-19 specific protocols for the safety of staff while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Below are some of the strategies that facilities should focus on.
Increased Sterilization Frequency
Hospitals, private practices, and other health care facilities, including senior living practice routine sterilization. However, thanks to the high level of contagiousness of COVID-19, these establishments are advised to increase the frequency and thoroughness of sterilization procedures.
Hand sterilization by health workers is a top priority, and the health department advises that all healthcare staff sterilize their hands before and after all interactions with COVID-19 patients, as well as before and after sterilizing areas of the hospital.
Rooms, surfaces, and instruments also need to be regularly and thoroughly sterilized to reduce the risk of infection. Harvard Medical states that that the virus can survive on metal surfaces for up to 72 hours, so these need special attention.
Cardboard and paper also need to be treated with care, as the coronavirus can live on these for up to 24 hours, and these materials are not as easily sterilized as steel, plastic, and other hard surfaces.
If your organization is in need of updated sterilization guidelines, browse this post.
Create and Closely Follow Protocols for Personal Protective Equipment
The correct use of personal protective equipment is essential for the protection of health workers against the coronavirus.
Healthcare locations, including senior living, rehab and nursing homes need to provide adequate supplies of masks, gloves, suits, face shields, goggles, and full-length gowns. Staff also need to be trained on the use and importance of utilizing personal protective equipment and infection control procedures. Regular hand hygiene compliance assessments of the staff should also be considered.
For close contact with highly infectious cases (such as when taking samples), health workers are advised to wear fluid-resistant long-sleeved gowns, P2/N95 respirators, face shields or goggles, and disposable nonsterile gloves. Special care should be taken when performing procedures that create aerosol, such as endotracheal intubation.
Additionally, single-use personal protective equipment must be discarded as appropriate for medical waste or equipment and not re-used.
Equally critical is educating healthcare workers on Patients who have contracted the coronavirus should also be required to wear a mask, particularly when engaging with staff. Proper steps to restrict patients to airborne infection isolation rooms or wards with adequate space between patients must also be immediately implemented.
Training and Onboarding
Many healthcare networks, hospitals and senior living facilities are already finding themselves short of workers. Some states such as New York have asked retirees to reactivate and be ready to return to duty. Senior living facilities are hiring all levels of workers from aids to janitorial. During this time it is critical that these new or returning workers be fully and carefully trained on all procedures and protocols for patient safety and handling, as well as infectious disease handling and containment. Healthcare locations should be evaluating as often as possible compliance with their protocols.
A major unsung hero in the COVID-19 battle across any industry are the janitorial staff. They play a huge roll in curbing the spread of this virus from cleaning patient rooms, to lobbies and common areas. These individuals must be outfitted with the appropriate PPE, and fully trained on its use and disposal. Onboarding and training these individuals is critical as this group of workers often come to the healthcare industry from others that do not have the same level of risk and exposure.
Implement Protocols for Full Body Sterilization
Although surfaces and hands pose the largest risk of infection, it should be noted that it is possible for the COVID-19 virus to survive in clothing and hair. Because of this possibility, health care workers should also carry out full body sterilization upon arriving home to ensure they do not take the virus home with them when they leave the healthcare setting. Educating them on the importance of changing their clothes in a garage or mudroom before entering their home, leaving shoes, coats, purses and other gear in a garage or mudroom. Place all clothes in a trash bag and take immediately to the washing machine to wash on the hottest water possible. Taking a shower once arriving home, and routinely sanitizing all surfaces of their vehicle, are all additional steps healthcare employees must take after leaving their workplace.
Implementation of Pre-Shift Screening on Coronavirus Symptoms
Another precaution that healthcare centres should take is to screen employees before every shift to enquire whether they are experiencing symptoms that correlate to the coronavirus.
COVID-19 symptoms include the following:
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing (in severe cases)
If employees report any of these symptoms it is crucial that they go into self-isolation immediately.
Test Healthcare Workers as Soon as Respiratory Symptoms Appear
Additionally, if health care workers develop respiratory symptoms that are cohesive with the coronavirus, it is important that testing for COVID-19 is done as soon as possible.
Because healthcare workers are at a heightened risk of contracting the virus, it is essential that testing is done without delay.
For CDC instructions for healthcare personnel with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, click here.
It is also important in the senior living setting that gatherings of residents be restricted. Community level functions should be cancelled unless there is an assurance of adequate space between each resident. Look for alternative ways to entertain and inspire residents that do not involve groups in close proximity. Senior living and other in-resident facilities should consider eliminating group dining and move to serving residents in their rooms/apartments.
Can Health Employees Claim Workers' Compensation for COVID-19 Infection?
Across industries, questions are being raised regarding whether employees are eligible for workers' compensation if they contract the coronavirus. Even with strict virus control protocols in place, workers are still at risk for infection.
In the case of healthcare workers, this is an even more pertinent question, as most healthcare professionals are required to remain at work throughout pandemic conditions, and often they are providing close proximity care for those infected.
In some cases, infected staff can claim workers' compensation, however, proof is required that the infection happened at their place of work and nowhere else. For many industries, this can be difficult to prove. However, workers in the health care industry may have improved odds of being able to present a successful claim. Each situation will be different, so it is critical that an investigation into each situation be conducted to ensure the circumstances that gave rise to the exposure or infection.
The CDC requires quarantining after what they deem a mid or high-level exposure within the healthcare industry. It is important for the healthcare facility to have a process in place to monitor these quarantines and to determine how they will address the worker’s pay as well as backfilling that position.
Additional resources and information can also be found on the American Hospital Association’s page for COVID-19.
If you’d like to discover more ways to protect yourself and your company during COVID-19, visit our Resource Center.
Lisa Faith is a Vice President of Account Management at Gallagher Bassett, and is a leader of our Healthcare Industry Practice Group. You can find her on LinkedIn.