Unions calling against provincial guidance on early returns for isolating health workers

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Unions calling against provincial guidance on early returns for isolating health workers's Profile


A pair of prominent health care unions are calling on Queen’s Park to walk back a guidance order shortening the isolation time for staff who develop COVID-19 symptoms.

The groups are criticizing a January 12 memo to hospitals, congregate living and similar work settings, which sets guidelines for the early return of recovering employees.

“All settings should fully utilize staffing strategies in their continuity of operations plan to avoid and mitigate situations of staffing shortages impacting care before utilizing early return to work for staff in isolation,” reads the memo. “Options with lower risk should be exhausted prior to progressing to options with more risk. The use of options with more risk should be commensurate to the risk of insufficient staffing to patients/residents.”

In certain health settings, employees need to isolate for 10 days if they develop symptoms or if a close contact gets sick. However, for places under heavy staffing stress, the memo leaves the door open for an early return.

Some people are able to “return to work earlier than day 7 […] without testing” as long as they are cohorted with workers in the same situation, and have improving symptoms.

In a recent letter to government officials, SEIU Healthcare and CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE) argue the policy endangers patients and the employees themselves, “by depriving them of the opportunity to recover from what can be a dangerous and deadly infection.”

“This plan, in our view, creates an unacceptable level of risk for hospital patients, employees and by extension all Ontarians, who have every right to expect hospitals to serve as bulwarks against, not links in, the chain of transmission,” reads the letter.

“Shortening the isolation period for healthcare workers is misguided and dangerous, in light of growing evidence suggesting that those infected with Omicron may be infectious for longer,” it adds.

The unions are asking the province to suspend the policy.

They also argue that sending COVID-positive staff back without specific PPE could constitute a health and safety violation.

“The document fails to recommend PPE appropriate to the situation of extreme risk that it contemplates,” reads the letter. “At a minimum, an elastomeric respirator, which has a higher rating than an N95 mask, must be standard for anyone returned to work who may still be contagious.”

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