Healthcare workers worry hospital policies putting employees, patients at risk

Concerns over Atrium travel policy

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Healthcare workers at both Atrium Health and Novant Health have reached out to WBTV with concerns about whether the hospitals policies are putting employees and their families at risk.

Half a dozen employees between the two hospitals have spoken with WBTV and provided internal documents and emails highlighting policies that concern them, including one that allows Atrium employees to continue working if exposed to COVID-19 and only stop if they present symptoms.

“I think the thing that makes me the most nervous is that the management isn’t protecting its employees especially those who might be affected by this virus,” an Atrium healthcare employee told WBTV on the condition of anonymity.

Workers highlighted several major concerns that they believe put them at risk.

- Lack of COVID-19 testing for healthcare workers.

- Policies that force employees to continue working even if exposed to confirmed COVID-19 cases.

- Travel policies for employees that are not being enforced rigorously.

- Employees being asked to use their own PTO if required to quarantine.

- Shortage of personal protective equipment.

On Saturday, a new policy sent to Atrium employees and accessible through their employee website said that employees who are exposed to confirmed COVID-19 cases “may continue to work unless the teammate develops signs/symptoms of respiratory viral infection.”

A new policy shared with Atrium employees shows that workers who come into contact with COVID-19 cases "may continue to work unless the teammate develops symptoms."
A new policy shared with Atrium employees shows that workers who come into contact with COVID-19 cases "may continue to work unless the teammate develops symptoms." (Source: WBTV)

An employees said that people who might be patients at Atrium should be aware of this new policy before deciding if they want to visit the hospital.

An employee for Novant told WBTV that she has experienced some but not all of the symptoms of COVID-19 but she has been unable to get a test from her employer.

“We’re putting ourselves out there we’re very vulnerable we’re seeing lots and lots of sick patients and we have less chance of getting tested than the general public does,” the Novant employee said.

“We’re the ones taking care of the patients that while they’re in their board rooms having these meetings we’re on the front lines,” one Atrium employee said about the hospitals executive team.

“If we come to them with concerns there needs to be answers.”

Several Atrium employees raised concerns to WBTV about employees who travelled to “high risk” areas and were able to come to work without a problem.

While Atrium implemented a policy mandating that employees who traveled internationally or domestically to high risk areas needed to register that with management employees say there have been exceptions.

“We’ve had at least four co-workers that have gone out of the country and, to my knowledge, none of them have been going through teammate health or going through the proper channels before coming back to work,” an Atrium employee told WBTV. “I have heard management say to these individuals, who should be going through teammate health, that they fall in a quote-unquote grey area.”

Healthcare workers worry hospital policies putting employees, patients at risk

Employees for both Novant and Atrium have raised concerns about the paid time off policies for employees.

An email obtained by WBTV from an Atrium department leader shows that the hospital is advancing 80 hours of paid time off. That would require employees to give back PTO they earn in the future.

Employees for both Atrium and Novant told WBTV that the hospitals are already at critical staffing levels before they’ve experienced an expected influx of COVID-19 cases and they suspect that hospital administrators are trying to keep as many people working as possible.

“I think the reason why they are letting people getting away with this grey area and not going through teammate health is because of the possibility they might be quarantined for two weeks and frankly we don’t have the staff the ancillary staff to accommodate that,” an Atrium employee told WBTV.

But employees who spoke with WBTV believe the risk for allowing sick healthcare workers to continue showing up to work is greater.

“We’re already short staffed so if it were to knock one of us out, I feel like it would spread quickly and we might not have the staff we need,” an Atrium employee said.

A spokesperson for Atrium wrote in a statement that the hospital’s policies and guidelines match recommendations made by the Center for Disease Control.

“We are trying to protect public health and stop or slow down the spread of a highly infectious disease. Atrium Health is doing its best to be responsive to teammate questions and concerns,” the spokesperson wrote.

“If teammates feel they are not being heard for any reason, we have a 24-hour helpline created just for these types of situations. Teammates can anonymously report their concerns, and Atrium Health leaders will respond.”

A spokesperson for Novant replied that PPE is indeed being secured but is accessible to employees who need it.

“Like many supplies, PPE is now safeguarded to protect our supply during this public health crisis. While we have sufficient supplies today, we are carefully monitoring PPE supplies and have elevated the security of these items to ensure we can meet demand throughout the duration of the pandemic. Any team member who needs PPE has access to PPE.”

The Novant spokesperson also said that employees who come into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 will be tested but asymptomatic employees will not.

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