The year 2020 is roaring quickly to a close, and COVID-19 is (unfortunately) still around. We have made changes to our lives at home, in public, and at work. Healthcare workers, in particular, made several changes early on with PPE use and work practices that are still in effect today. A great deal of work had to be done early on this year to provide information to staff in healthcare facilities regarding this updated safety information.
At this point, the initial work that needed to be done by safety professionals has been completed. Education was given regarding safe collection, transport, and testing of specimens. Risk assessments have been performed for new testing platforms. Employees have been educated regarding the continued use of Standard Precautions and how they create protection from viruses and bacteria every day. However, as can happen with safety programs, staff become tired of following the regulations, they become complacent, and they don’t understand the reasons behind all of the changes in safety practices.
Employees in many locations have become weary of some of the new regulations and practices. Masking in the workplace, social distancing, not eating together in break rooms, and wearing additional PPE for specimen collection are just some of the changes that have been put in place. As has happened in many states across the nation, people are becoming weary of these practices, and many employees no longer wish to comply. Unfortunately, this lack of compliance has created an increase in staff exposure to COVID-19, and much of that exposure is occurring on the job.
The work of the healthcare safety professional is not over. Although staff may be tired of continuing some of the practices that have been implemented, they must be reminded that they were implemented for their protection and for the continued operation of their departments.
Community exposure to the coronavirus is also affecting the workplace. Infected or exposed employees must now be quarantined and off the schedule for a long period of time. Typically, an employee will report an issue to Employee Health once they become symptomatic. But what if a co-worker was with them a day or two before with no PPE? That’s too late, isn’t it? Close, unprotected contact with that infected person will mean that the co-worker may become infected as well. It can also create the need to quarantine even if the co-worker doesn’t become ill. These scenarios can be prevented if staff continue to follow the updated safety guidelines that have been put into practices in our workplaces this year. Regular reminders about this are necessary.
One hospital system in the country has instituted the use of what they call “COVID Captains” at their facilities. The hospitals are cancer treatment centers, and every patient they have in their buildings throughout the country is immunocompromised. They cannot have employees let down their guard and contract the virus while treating this patient population. The “Captains” monitor PPE and safety practice compliance on each campus, and they educate staff about community exposure prevention as well. Because of their vigilance, they have had no coronavirus exposures with their staff to date. That’s very impressive.
Should there be “COVID Captains” in your workplace also? The pandemic continues, and the safety of healthcare workers and the patients they serve has never been more important. Continue to educate your staff about COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread at home and at work. Wal around and make sure the correct masks and face protection are in use. Keep people apart as much as possible, and if that isn’t possible, make sure PPE or engineering controls are in place. The holidays are here, but avoid potlucks shared meals. Instead, ensure all food and beverage items are individually packaged. Be certain there is a process where social distancing is maintained when food is distributed. By continuing to monitor safe practices and providing on-going education, we can keep the staff we have and be prepared to serve those patients who are in need during the pandemic.