Dignity Health OKs virus-positive workers as omicron strains Valley hospitals, test sites

Posted at 10:32 PM, Jan 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-09 16:59:34-05

PHOENIX — As COVID cases continue climbing, so does the strain on hospitals, healthcare workers, and testing supplies.

The increase in cases is causing hospital beds to dwindle, leading Dignity Health to make an unprecedented change; announcing a “critical staff crisis” and is changing its policy.

ABC15 learned Saturday that Dignity Health emailed its St. Joseph’s hospital staff, explaining the new policy saying in part:

COVID positive staff who are improving, mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic do not require isolation but are required to wear N95 masks for up to 10 days of positive symptoms or testing. These measures are supported by the CDC.

“I just don’t know what to do right now,” said a health care worker for St. Joseph’s, who wants to remain anonymous.

That health care worker tells ABC15 this new policy goes against everything they’ve been taught during this pandemic.

“These patients are the poorest, the sickest, and the most at risk. To have a healthcare worker who’s going to be dealing directly with these people, coming back coughing, which is exactly what’s been happening…really leaves you no faith in the company that you work for,” they added.

Dignity Health though, says, because of omicron's rapid spread in Maricopa County, it has enacted the "third tier" of the CDC guidelines for health care workers with COVID.

Here is the statement Dignity Health provided to ABC15 on Saturday:

“Due to the spread and impact of the COVID-19 omicron variant in Maricopa County, and in anticipation of an continued increase, Dignity Health facilities in Maricopa County have enacted the third tier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 positive health care workers. These guidelines allow COVID-19 positive health care personnel who are asymptomatic or improving with mild symptoms to work without a quarantine period.

We are doing everything we can to ensure our employees can safely return to work while protecting our patients and staff from the transmissibility of COVID-19. The safety of our staff and patients is always our top priority; and we have tremendous gratitude for our dedicated care teams who have worked tirelessly to take care of our communities throughout the pandemic.

Our health care workforce and hospitals need the community's support now more than ever. The best way the public can support our staff and keep our hospitals resources available for those most in need is to follow public health mitigation protocols for COVID-19, get vaccinated and receive a booster vaccine as soon as you are eligible.”

ABC15’s Health Insider Dr. Shad Marvasti believes this situation could've been avoided.

“Let’s not forget why the hospitals are here. Why these difficult decisions were made. This was not something that was inevitable. This was preventable. This is a result of failed policies. The situation has really created a desperation in hospitals,” he added.

Testing sites have also felt the impact of the new variant.

Demand continues skyrocketing, for companies like Embry Health.

“It’s actually substantially worse than I ever could have imagined. Yesterday alone, our patients across Arizona scheduled over 42,000 COVID-19 tests. Our previous record for scheduling was 30,000,” said Embry Health CEO Raymond Embry.

It has led some sites to temporarily run out of rapid test kits.

“Everyone is scrambling as quick as possible to ensure that we’re able to continue meeting this need,” Embry said.

While the increase has caused Dignity Health to alter policies, frontline workers are still worried they, or their vulnerable patients, will get the virus because of the changes.

“I think they're going to really have a staffing crisis coming soon because either a lot of their employees will die, from what they’ve been telling us. Or, we’re just going to be fed up,” added the St. Joseph’s health care worker.