Local hospitals turn down state on COVID-positive employees coming to work

CDPH gives health care providers the opportunity to send COVID-positive employees back to work immediately, but local healthcare providers decline

TULARE COUNTY – As the ever-shifting COVID-landscape of testing, cases, hospitalizations, death and policy continues to churn, Central Valley healthcare providers issued a joint S.O.S. citing current hospitalization levels are overwhelming care teams and pushing ERs close to disaster levels.

“71% of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated. This problem is preventable, and it’s threatening our ability to provide care to the ones who need it most,” The statement from Community Medical Centers read. “Vaccines help prevent serious illness, which helps keep you out of the hospital. Keep wearing your mask and following social distancing precautions. If you feel sick, get tested for COVID-19 at your local pharmacy, urgent care or physicians office. Then stay home until your symptoms have passed so that you don’t pass the virus to others.”

Kaweah Health’s staff has been decimated by the pandemic from burnout and infections, at one point having over 700 open positions and as of Monday had 284 employees out on quarantine. But when the California Department of Public Health issued updated guidance allowing COVID-positive, asymptomatic health care employees to return to work immediately, not one major Tulare County healthcare provider took the opportunity from the state to replenish their ranks at the cost of potentially infecting others.

Kaweah Health chose to implement a 7-day quarantine. Adventist Health employees are returning after a minimum 5-day quarantine if asymptomatic. Sierra View Medical Center said they’re not allowing COVID-19 positive employees to work, and are continuing to use prior guidance to screen and clear health care workers who’ve tested positive.

The decisions are in line with the morals of the distraught health care workers interviewed by the LA Times last week on the prospect of returning to work COVID-positive, but that hasn’t changed the dire scene on the job.

As of Monday Kaweah Health was at 101% occupancy. They’ve turned their 12-bed pediatric unit into an overflow adult unit, doubled up patients in the 30-bed intermediate, critical care unit and as of Monday morning, had 29 patients in the emergency department deemed needing medical care with no bed available to them. On New Year’s Day, Kaweah Health had 30 COVID-19 patients. As of Monday morning, the count was at 83.

Adventist Health has 16 COVID-positive patients with two in the ICU as of Monday, and are caring for 64 COVID-positive patients throughout their network of four hospitals. Sierra View was at 10% ICU availability with 20 confirmed cases in-house and 65 employees on COVID leave.

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