Some Hospital Workers Are Returning to Work Without Getting COVID-19 Test Results Back

It can sometimes take more than a week to get a coronavirus test back, but NBC 6 Investigators have confirmed some hospital workers return to work before they know if they’re positive or negative. Their union says this situation is putting workers at risk.

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Some staff at Jackson Health System can return to work before they know if they are positive or negative for the coronavirus.

“They’re scared because we don’t know if you are positive or not and you may be exposing us all,” said Rene Sanchez, the union president of AFSCME Local 1363 representing 5,000 employees at Jackson. “I’m only assuming Jackson is making that decision because we need people. We need bodies.”

It’s another recent story about hospitals and staff inside being pushed to the edge during the global pandemic that rebounded particularly strong in South Florida. 

It’s not only doctors and registered nurses who work day and night in area hospitals but also a wide range of other professionals including x-ray technicians, care specialists, security officers and cleaning crews. Many of them have been infected with the virus and some have died.

Devin Francis worked in radiology at Jackson Memorial Hospital and died earlier this spring due to complications from the coronavirus.

Sanchez fears more could come in the months ahead. 

“We’re doing our best. We’re trying to do our best. But it’s just not safe. You know, it’s just not safe,” Sanchez said. 

Even though the virus can spread from people without symptoms, Jackson Health System confirms staff are allowed to return to work before they get the results back from their coronavirus test, not knowing if they’re positive or negative. 

Jackson points to the use of masks, disinfection requirements and other precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

“All employees at Jackson Health System are required to wear a hospital-grade mask at all times, as well as practice frequent hand-hygiene and social distance when possible. Given all these safety requirements, employees who are asymptomatic are allowed to continue working while they wait for their results,” said Lidia Amoretti, the media relations manager for Jackson Health System. 

Health care workers on the front lines of this pandemic spoke out about the current conditions inside some of South Florida's busiest hospitals. NBC 6's Nathalia Ortiz reports.

Sanchez says many times workers are asked to return to work. 

Jackson leaders say the need for additional healthy workers is extreme and the funds available are limited because of a decrease in elective surgeries. As a result, hazard pay for workers is off the table at this point.

In a statement to NBC 6, Amoretti wrote: “As we shifted our operations to focus solely on providing the best care to hospitalized COVID patients and others who need emergency, lifesaving care, Jackson leadership made the prudent decision to stop elective procedures, which brings in the most revenue to Jackson. That, along with the high costs associated with overtime, supplies, and emergency staffing, have pushed our health system toward a dire financial crisis, yet no employees have been laid off, furloughed, or had their salaries reduced. Like most other health systems in South Florida – public and private – Jackson simply cannot afford to provide hazard pay to our employees at this time.”

As new cases continue to mount, health care workers' concerns about reaching hospital capacity are growing - so is their lack of confidence in some that are in charge. NBC 6's Tony Pipitone reports

Sanchez worries hospital workers could face a similar situation like 9/11 first responders, who had to fight for years to get back pay for medical issues. 

“Similar to the 9/11 firefighters, (who) beg for the proper compensation. We don’t feel that’s necessary,” Sanchez said. “That’s not the way to go. Treat us right from the beginning. It is a priority. Make us a priority.”

As Congress is mulling over the next version of the CARES Act, Jackson leaders say they are “carefully monitoring” that process and “are prepared” to respond with any federal funding for staff. 

Both the union and the health care system say the more than 100 new workers from the state are helping a great deal.

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