Local Hospitals Adapt Staffing Protocols Amid COVID Surge

Update: 5:45 p.m. Jan. 11 | Statements from Salem Regional Medical Center and Steward hospitals.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — As hospitalizations for COVID-19 increase in the region, area hospitals are adapting their work protocols for staff.

As of Jan. 10, Region 5 in Ohio – which includes Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties – had 1,374 patients hospitalized for COVID, according to the Ohio Department of Health. That’s up from 1,111 hospitalizations since Dec. 28.

Amid the surge, staffing shortages at hospitals have been an ongoing concern. To mitigate shortages, Mercy Health updated its return-to-work guidelines for staff who test positive to give them the option to return to work if they feel well enough to perform their duties.

“This is an individual choice for our employees. If an employee is symptomatic and feels they cannot work, they should call off and remain home until they feel well enough to return to work,” according to a statement from Mercy.

Employees who test positive for COVID-19 and are asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms will be required to wear an N95 mask at all times for a minimum of 10 days from the onset of symptoms, according to the statement. Those staff members are prohibited from any contact with co-workers or patients if they are not wearing a mask.

“When their mask is removed for breaks or meals, those will be taken off-premises, such as in their cars or other isolated areas. COVID-19 positive employees will not work with immunocompromised patients,” according to the statement. “By following these safety protocols and strictly adhering to PPE guidelines, we can continue to safely care for our patients without posing additional risk.”

Mercy’s update aligns with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on mitigating health care personnel staffing shortages at a “crisis” level.

Under the CDC crisis-level guidance health care personnel with SARS-CoV-2 infection, there are no work restrictions with prioritization considerations, such as asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases. That goes for all staff, regardless of vaccine status, according to the CDC website.

Graphic: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Akron Children’s Hospital notified on Jan. 7 staff members “for which we have no record of vaccination or exemption” will be placed on unpaid leave, according to a statement.

Staff will be put on unpaid leave after a one-on-one meeting between each employee and a manager, according to the statement.

“While the Jan. 11 deadline for our Covid-19 vaccination requirement is firm, we are working with those employees who have expressed in good faith their commitment to be fully vaccinated,” said Lisa Aurilio, chief operating officer at Akron Children’s Hospital. “We value the contribution of each and every employee, but we must uphold our founding promise to provide the best care possible for every child in our service area. A vaccinated workforce is the best way to protect our patients, especially those who are immuno-compromised, chronically ill or not yet eligible to be vaccinated.”

Salem Regional Medical Center is currently following the updated CDC guidelines for health care worker restrictions with SARS CoV-2 infection and exposures related to the CDC’s contingency and crisis framework, according to a statement from President and CEO Dr. Anita Hackstedde.

“As our top priority, SRMC continues to take enhanced safety measures to best protect the health and safety of our staff and patients during this crisis period,” Hackstedde said in the statement. “SRMC has implemented the process for mandatory compliance with the emergency temporary standard issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for private employers with 100 or more employees and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) interim final rule regarding vaccine mandates.

“However, as these mandates are currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, SRMC has temporarily suspended their enforcement pending the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

Trumbull Regional Medical Center, Sharon Regional Medical Center and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital are complying “with all CDC COVID-19 prevention guidelines and remain ready to serve the needs of our communities,” stated a spokesperson from Steward, which operates the hospitals. “We also continue to encourage community members to get vaccinated and a booster shot.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.