Erlanger, CHI Memorial hospitals identified as employee COVID-19 clusters

Health department officials have identified Erlanger Health System’s main hospital and CHI Memorial Hospital’s main campus, both in Chattanooga, Tenn., as COVID-19 clusters on a list provided to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County Health Department identified the clusters in a list obtained by the publication through an open records request. The list defines a cluster as two or more confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases linked by the same exposure location, excluding household exposure, according to the Times Free Press. Facilities on the list have had at least 10 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began and at least one new case in the past 28 days.

The list shows Erlanger’s main hospital with 103 confirmed or probable employee cases from the start of the pandemic through September and CHI Memorial Hospital’s main campus with 50 during that six-month period.

In a statement shared with Becker’s Hospital Review, Erlanger officials said the health system is focused on the health and safety of employees, patients, visitors and community.

“As one of the largest employers in Hamilton County, [with about 7,000 combined full and part-time employees],  statistically it would be expected for a percentage of the community population with COVID-19 to work at Erlanger,” the officials said. “We have implemented numerous safety measures such as required masking, PPE and working remotely where possible to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, community spread away from work continues to be a challenge for all employers as our associates and their families live and play throughout the region where they are exposed to others who may not follow the same practices.”

Erlanger officials said they are working to reduce COVID-19 spread through using proper PPE, universal masking for all staff and visitors, daily health screening for all on-site staff, limited visitation policy, social distancing where possible, and proper hand hygiene practices. They said they also encourage participation in the health department’s contact tracing efforts and require employees to report sickness to the health system.

“Employees who are sick, or have any of the known symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, headache, diarrhea, fever greater than 100.0 without fever reducing medications), or a known exposure to a COVID-19 positive person without appropriate PPE are not allowed to work until they have completed the required quarantine period, have been asymptomatic for at least 24 hours, and have been released by WorkForce,” the health system’s infection monitoring system, officials said.   

CHI Memorial officials also noted its focus on the safety of its employees and patients in a statement shared with Becker’s Hospital Review

“Since the beginning of the COVID outbreak in March, we have had measures in place to identify any employee who may have COVID-like symptoms,” the statement says. “We were early adopters of mandatory masking and monitor the temperature and symptoms of each employee every day. Employees who are experiencing symptoms are reported … for testing and tracing, if positive. CHI Memorial has also provided its employees with appropriate PPE throughout the pandemic and monitors our par levels in real time, reporting to the organization each week. Being mindful of the importance of social distancing and to limit employee contact, CHI Memorial has a number of supportive services staff working from home.”

Being a healthcare organization with 4,700 employees, CHI Memorial officials said the organization’s safety measures have resulted in a small number of work-related or community-related exposures, which have typically occurred when safety measures were not fully followed.

“It is important for everyone to be aware of the absolute necessity to mask properly; (the mask should be worn at all times with the nose and mouth fully covered) to maintain a six foot distance between others; and to wash hands frequently. These are critical to our ability to stem the spread and keep all safe,” officials said.

Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes told the Times Free Press the cluster list is for department staff to help identify potential patterns of spread, but doesn’t necessarily indicate transmission is occurring at the workplace.

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