Healthcare workers on Vancouver Island have been instructed to forego the 14-day isolation period upon return from international travel. Black Press file photo

Healthcare workers on Vancouver Island have been instructed to forego the 14-day isolation period upon return from international travel. Black Press file photo

Frontline workers receiving COVID-19 isolation exemptions prompt concerns

Provincial Health Authority staff exempt from self-isolation upon return from international travel

Healthcare workers on Vancouver Island say exemptions for travelling employees pose a risk to patients in hospitals.

One worker from a hospital in the central-North Island region, who asked Black Press to conceal their identity because they feared losing their job, has been forced to take unpaid leave in order to self-isolate after an international trip.

“It’s my legal responsibility to keep my staff safe,” they said. Their family had been travelling in the United States and returned to Vancouver Island on March 12.

READ: Island doctor says health authority dropping the ball on COVID-19

When they first returned they were told by management that self-isolation was the rule. Then the next day, the rule changed, and they were told they must report to work.

On March 15 Island Health updated their Pandemic Response Plan with a “different direction” for health authority employees coming back to work than any other industry.

“In pandemic times, we enact a call to action for Healthcare workers to help the rest of our citizens make their way through the pandemic,” an information sheet distributed by Island Health notes. “We play a critical role in caring for the rest of our population. Therefore, the benefit of having our teams at work is greater than the risk of keeping us at home.”

Only a doctor or someone else similarly qualified can direct staff to self-isolate, according to Island Health.

(See entire document at the end of this article.)

This double standard doesn’t sit well with healthcare workers, some who say they are being penalized for choosing to self-isolate after travelling.

“I said (to my manager) I’m not really feeling good about going back to work. I’ve been on three different planes in 24 hours,” they said. “This is worrisome for me to come back to work and potentially infect people. I want to flatten this curve too.”

They have been forced to use sick time and banked overtime for part of self-isolation, and will not be paid once that runs out. They are going to fulfill their 14-day self-isolation anyway.

Another health care worker who also didn’t want to be identified over fear they would lose their job is concerned over the exemption.

“If they’ve been travelling this is only putting our most vulnerable at risk; you have to be in contact with them,” they said. “This policy needs to be reviewed.”

A registered nurse (RN) who lives and works in a North Island hospital said they returned from an international trip on March 12 and was initially told to self-isolate. The next day, Island Health contacted the RN and said they were exempt from self-isolating because they are a healthcare worker.

“I questioned this, but was not given any alternative,” they said. “We are over-staffed at this time due to elective surgery cancellations, so my absence from work would not have had any effect on patient care. In light of the severity of the COVID-19 crisis, I am having a difficult time understanding the risk involved for my co-workers and patients by having me on the work floor if we are not in a critical staffing situation.”

The only healthcare workers required to self-isolate for 14 days are those returning from Hubei Province in China, Iran or Italy. Anyone travelling anywhere else is asked to wear a mask, limit outside contacts and practice social distancing.

When asked on March 19 about the different standards for self-isolation, B.C. Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said self-isolation can create a challenge for staffing of essential services, including nurses and doctors, paramedics, police and fire services.

If a healthcare worker has a “critical function” in providing frontline care there is a possibility that leadership in that workplace can allow that person to work by making small changes to their tasks. Henry said some of those alterations include “wearing a mask, separating from other healthcare workers and doing self-checks on a regular basis.

“It is not just a blanket exemption, it is very controlled, and it is only when it is going to compromise health care,” she said.

There are at least 55 healthcare workers in British Columbia that have tested positive for COVID-19 as of March 26.

Joe McQuaid, executive director of the Alberni-Clayoquot Continuing Care Society, which looks after Echo Village and Fir Park Village, has taken the rapidly changing rules in stride. He returned from a holiday in Mexico on March 6, before the federal government started recommending self-isolation for travellers who return from international destinations.

“I was symptom free,” he said. He went back to work at Fir Park and Echo Village seniors facilities in Port Alberni.

Notification from the health ministry came six days after his return that travellers had to self-isolate, except for healthcare workers.

“There are now two standards: one for health care workers…if they weren’t showing symptoms they are to return to work,” McQuaid said.

The federal government has since invoked the Quarantine Act which makes self-isolation mandatory for people returning from international destinations, which includes the United States and Mexico.

“That shows how quickly evolving this story is,” McQuaid said.

With files from Ashley Wadhwani, Black Press



susie.quinn@albernivalleynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

BC HealthComox ValleyCoronavirusIsland HealthPORT ALBERNI

Just Posted

Vehicles line up for the Greater Vancouver Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival at the Chilliwack Coliseum parking lot on March 27. The touring event comes to Abbotsford this weekend, May 15 and 16. (Photo: Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress)
Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival takes place in Abbotsford

Event runs May 15 and 16 at Tradex, featuring 12 trucks each day

Mandarin Garden in Abbotsford had two event tents set up for outdoor dining. One of the tents, valued at more than $5,000, was stolen early Friday morning (May 14). (Submitted photo)
UPDATE: Dining tent stolen from Abbotsford restaurant is located

Owner says it would have cost more than $5,000 to replace the rented event tent

Chilliwack prolific offender Brian Stephan was wanted in late April 2021, but was arrested and charged after allegedly stealing a vehicle in Mission on May 5 and resisting arrest in Chilliwack. (RCMP file)
Wanted Chilliwack prolific offender arrested yet again

Brian Stephan allegedly stole a vehicle in Mission, committed a B&E, resisted arrest in Chilliwack on May 5

Trina Hunt's remains were found in the Hope area on March 29. Her family is asking the public to think back to the weekend prior to when she went missing. (Photo courtesy of IHIT.)
Cousin of missing woman found in Hope says she won’t have closure until death is solved

Trina Hunt’s family urges Hope residents to check dashcam, photos to help find her killer

The new emergency department at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre is slated to open June 8. (Screenshot from Province of BC video)
Expanded emergency department slated to open in June at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Project cost $15 million with an additional $1.25 million donated for equipment

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Bradley Priestap in an undated photo provided to the media some time in 2012 by the London Police Service.
Serial sex-offender acquitted of duct tape possession in B.C. provincial court

Ontario sex offender on long-term supervision order was found with one of many ‘rape kit’ items

Rich Coleman, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, was recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month. (Screenshot)
Coleman questioned over $460K transaction at River Rock during B.C. casinos inquiry

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about 2011 interview on BC Almanac program

Steven Shearer, <em>Untitled. </em>(Dennis Ha/Courtesy of Steven Shearer)
Vancouver photographer’s billboards taken down after complaints about being ‘disturbing’

‘Context is everything’ when it comes to understanding these images, says visual art professor Catherine Heard

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Mike Farnworth, pre-pandemic. (File photo)
Surrey Police recruitment not distracting cops from shootings, Farnworth says

‘That’s simply not the case,’ Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told the Now-Leader on Friday

Police are at Ecole Mount Prevost Elementary but the students have been evacuated. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Gardener finds buried explosives, sparking evacuation of Cowichan school

Students removed from school in an ‘abundance of caution’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read