According to RegisteredNursing.org, more than 20 percent of coronavirus cases in some states are among healthcare workers; and, whereas most media attention relating to the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers has been focused on direct care workers (i.e., doctors and nurses), relatively little attention has been given to the impact on healthcare service workers.
However, healthcare service workers – such as housekeepers, cooks, porters, cleaners, and nursing aides – have been impacted by COVID-19 more severely than front line workers according to research conducted by NationalNursesUnited.org. While the organization acknowledges its findings may be compromised by industry-wide data collection and disclosure issues, it is not alone in suggesting the health and safety of service workers has been disproportionately put at risk during the pandemic.
The Consequences of Prioritizing Direct Care Workers
Shortages of PPE have been an ongoing factor during the COVID-19 pandemic; and, due to a lack of knowledge about the different ways in which the virus can be transmitted, it is understandable that – at the start of the pandemic – direct care workers were prioritized for PPE. However, the consequences of this policy were that – for example – porters were being asked to move patients and cleaners were being asked to clean hospital rooms without adequate protection.
According to NonProfitQuarterly.org, twice as many lower-paid healthcare service workers than the general population have no health insurance; and, because of their limited incomes or part-time contracts, many could not afford to take time off work when they were feeling unwell. As a result, infected service workers continued to work alongside uninfected colleagues – spreading the virus quicker than among the general healthcare industry population due to the lack of PPE.
Initially, as service workers became too ill to work, many were forced to take time off to look after sick relatives, or were reassigned to other roles, their places were taken by staff who had lost their jobs when hotels and offices closed. However, the unconfined spread of the virus among healthcare service workers increased to such an extent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidance on how healthcare systems should plan ahead to mitigate staff shortages.
How Healthcare Systems Have Responded to the Crisis
Some healthcare systems have stepped up to better support healthcare service workers during the crisis. In New York for example, patient transporters employed by Northwell Health now work in teams of two when handling COVID-19 patient discharges – one to help the patient and handle the wheelchair, the other to touch doors and elevators. The healthcare system has also designated specific elevators for COVID-19 patients which are disinfected after every use.
In Colorado, EVS teams working for Delta Health have been provided with state-of-the-art UV-C light disinfection systems and portable 360 disinfectant cleaners to better protect staff, patients, and themselves from the virus. Similarly, the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia is equipping EVS teams with ATP testing kits to gather data about areas that need more frequent cleaning. The Center is also planning to introduce oxidizing cleaning systems that keep surfaces germ-free for 90 days.
To mitigate the risk of staff shortages due to the side effects of vaccinations and reduce the pressure on other healthcare service workers, Salt Lake City-based University of Utah Health is planning to stagger employee vaccinations; while Intermountain Healthcare, also based in Salt Lake City, is considering having employees receive vaccines on the last day of their weekly shift or before a weekend when they have time off to recover from any side effects they experience.
Managing Staff Shortages in Rapidly Evolving Circumstances
Alarmingly, the rate of infection in several states are again on the increase; and, earlier this month, the Director of the CDC – Rochelle Walensky – warned of the possibility of a coronavirus fourth wave due to the circulation of new COVID-19 variants. While it is hoped the vaccination program mitigates the impact of a fourth wave of COVID-19 on healthcare service workers, the likelihood is that healthcare systems around the country will experience a fourth wave of staff shortages.
Managing staff shortages in rapidly evolving circumstances can place additional burdens on EVS managers, housekeeping managers, and HR managers, but one effective solution to address the issue is the geo-polling module of the Rave Alert platform. This module enables team managers to solicit availability for vacant shifts quickly and effectively to ensure support services in healthcare facilities are maintained in accordance with the CDC’s guidance.
To find out more about the Rave Alert geo-polling module and other tips, do not hesitate to download and read our best practice guide, “10 Tips to Help You Address Staffing Needs”. Alternatively, if you have any questions about how Rave helps address staff shortages in healthcare, you are invited to get in touch with our healthcare safety team who will be happy to organize a demo of the Rave platform in action.