Clinicians with COVID-19 say they’re pressured to return to work while sick

Some clinicians who develop COVID-19 say their employers are pressuring them to return to work before they have fully recovered, reports Kaiser Health News.

The nonprofit news service reviewed workplace complaints reported to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration this spring, which documented several instances of  healthcare facilities requiring sick employees to work or threatening to fire them if they stayed home.

The pressure for clinicians to return to work not only comes from employers who may be short-staffed during the pandemic, but also from the industry’s deeply ingrained culture of “presenteeism,” Kaiser Health News said.

Many front-line providers pride themselves on being tough enough to work because there are patients who are sicker, Andra Blomkalns, MD, emergency medicine chair at Stanford (Calif.) University, told the publication.

Kaiser Health News spoke with a nurse at Hackensack (N.J.) Meridian Health who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in April. The nurse, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said Hackensack told her she could return to work in two days because she did not have a fever. 

While the system ultimately allowed her to isolate for two weeks — as instructed by a physician — hospital employees still called her daily, saying that her colleagues were short-staffed and “suffering,” the nurse claims. 

In a statement to Kaiser Health News, Hackensack spokesperson Mary Jo Layton said the health system “has followed the CDC recommendations as it relates to the evaluation, testing and clearance of team members following infection with COVID-19.”

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