Was It Ever About COVID? Hospitals Ask Infected Staff to Cut Sick Leave Short, Return to Work Amid Labor Shortage


Fire your hospital’s doctors and nurses if they’re not vaccinated. After all, we must protect the patients from COVID.

And if the remaining doctors and nurses test positive for COVID but are asymptomatic, don’t let them stay home too long. Get them back at work — we need the help!

It’s okay, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; one only needs to quarantine for five days.

No, says the American Medical Association and others; it needs to be ten days.

And so the debate goes. While the rest of us are not allowed to question the efficacy of vaccines, ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, masks, school closures, or keeping businesses open — because, as they say, we must follow the science — medical providers have found a petard on which to be hoisted.

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They’re in disagreement. And it’s serious.

Desperate due to a pandemic-aggravated shortage of nurses and doctors, hospitals want asymptomatic health care workers back on the job within five days, according to Politico.

It was a need to mitigate worker shortages disrupting the economy that prompted CDC director Rochelle Walensky to cut the quarantine of a person receiving a positive COVID test from ten days to five days.

But nursing unions, the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society object to the quarantine reduction, saying it puts patients at risk, Politico said.

Are government agencies and hospitals really following science?

Yet with high patient loads, sick employees and about a fifth of health care workers leaving the profession since the pandemic began, hospital administrators are desperate.

University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, reported 300 of its 3,700 employees out with COVID, according to Politico.

“It feels extremely irresponsible because you’re asking us to work sick,” ICU nurse Jennifer Caldwell told Politico after her hospital — Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri — said workers could return after five days if they are asymptomatic.

“The science shows that just because you’re asymptomatic doesn’t mean that you’re not infectious,” she said.

Nurse Debbie White, president of a New Jersey health care union opposed to the reduced quarantine, said, “It’s comparable to March, April, May 2020. I have not seen health care workers as panicked as they are now since that time.”

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Burnout seems to be a key reason health care workers are moving on. As of November, about a fifth of them have left the profession since the pandemic began, according to U.S. News.

A perusal of articles regarding the departures shows publications are careful not to mention mandated COVID vaccinations and their resulting firings as reasons for the departures.

The resignations are due to “ever higher levels of stress caused by systematic changes to care delivery and exacerbated by COVID-19,” U.S. News reported.

Citing a poll from Morning Consult, the health care trade publication Advisory Board said of 13 reasons for quitting, 54 percent of health care workers said it was due to “COVID-19 pandemic,” but the article included no details.

The Hill reported, “Factors range from burnout to safety concerns to low pay,” as reasons for the exodus. Its only mention of vaccinations was about vaccine opponents pressuring health workers out of the industry and the implied risks of anti-vaccine mandate legislation.

Mandatory overtime, a shortage of protection equipment and an opportunity to make more money on unemployment were some reasons for the resignations given in Employee Benefits News.

But what about the elephant in the room: the self-inflicted damage to health care staffing caused by hospital administrators in demanding vaccination for continued employment?

Administrators might argue they have no choice, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the OSHA-enforced vaccination mandate for facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding.

But from the initiation of the mandates, how many hospitals, or other industries for that matter, pushed back and worked to protect their employees from government overreach?

True, hospitals might have feared a poor image of health care employees treating patients without being vaccinated.

But now how will administrators explain to patients that they are being treated by doctors, nurses and others who, just a few days before, tested positive for COVID?

What is happening?

Can you imagine the World War II generation going like this to defeat enemies in Europe and Asia? Can you imagine a national effort to get to the moon operating like this? Or building an interstate highway system?

With so much irrationality, the question arises: Was all this ever about COVID?

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Mike Landry, PhD, is a retired business professor. He has been a journalist, broadcaster and church pastor. He writes from Northwest Arkansas on current events and business history.
Mike Landry, PhD, is a retired business professor. He has been a journalist, broadcaster and church pastor. He writes from Northwest Arkansas on current events and business history.