Plan allows asymptomatic workers to return to understaffed nursing homes


PROVIDENCE R.I. (WPRI) ─ The Rhode Island Department of Health has created a plan aiming to ramp up staffing at nursing homes across the state.

The plan would allow nurses who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic to return to work if the facility is short-staffed.

“If a facility is in dire need of staff, RIDOH may allow the facility to have COVID-19-positive staff work with COVID-19-positive residents. But this would only happen under certain conditions,” RIDOH spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said in a statement.

Nursing homes nationwide have been hit hard by the pandemic, and Rhode Island is no exception. According to the health department, nearly 75% of the state’s COVID-19-related deaths have occurred in nursing homes.

Facilities across the state, including the Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol and Orchard View Manor in East Providence, are also facing significant staffing shortages as more employees fall ill.

Wendelken said nurses who tested positive but are asymptomatic must pass a thorough screening process before returning to work. They’ll also be required to use separate entrances from all other employees to prevent exposure and have their temperatures checked regularly.

Everyone in a facility who is COVID-19-positive — both patients and staff — will be kept separate from those who are negative, Wendelken added.

“There are health and safety concerns associated with a facility not being adequately staffed. Staffing challenges are heightened when there are large portions of residents who certain staff cannot work with,” he said. “It’s a balancing test when making these decisions about having COVID-19-positive, asymptomatic workers in nursing homes.”

Right now, it appears that the staffing plan will only apply to nursing homes.

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