Nursing home says it’s allowed to have COVID-19-positive employees working during staffing crisis

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MADISON COUNTY, Ill. (KTVI) – An Illinois nursing home is under investigation amid a COVID-19 outbreak of nearly 100 people there that has killed 12.

Responding to the outbreak, the nursing home says it is allowed to have coronavirus-positive employees working.

An employee at Stearns Nursing and Rehab said she tested positive for COVID-19 and was told she could keep working. The employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she refused to go to work while positive.

When asked whether employees who tested positive are working, a Stearns director sent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that address “mitigating staff shortages.”

The guidelines say health care providers (HCP) with “suspected or confirmed COVID-19” should work apart from others, but it also says infected HCP can care for patients who have or are suspected of having the virus “when there are no longer enough staff to provide safe patient care.”

“As a last resort,” the guidelines say, “allow HCP with confirmed COVID-19 to provide direct care for patients without suspected or confirmed COVID-19.”

The Illinois Department of Health confirmed this, but wrote:

“While the CDC allows a positive employee who is asymptomatic to continue working if there is a staffing shortage, IDPH discourages it.”

The IDPH says facilities should consider this course of action only if the positive employee is asymptomatic and if “there is no alternative after they have exhausted all options.”

It also said it can be considered if “positive staff are strictly cohorted with only COVID-19 recovered or positive residents, and recovered or other asymptomatic positive staff.”

The nursing home would not say how many employees have COVID-19 out of the nearly 100 reported to be infected.

Meanwhile, Stearns is fighting a growing COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, Mindy Winning visited her 81-year-old mother with glass dividing them. She said she was told her mother is positive but asymptomatic, as is 100-year-old Gladys Sherrod.

“She was tested on the 8th of this month and we didn’t find out until last week,” said Sherrod’s son, Fred.

He said his mother survived polio as a child and a broken hip when she was 70, but this latest battle seems tougher because his mom is alone. He said she is also reported to be asymptomatic but that he struggles to get updates from nursing home staff.

“People who love those people are concerned because they’re not getting any feedback. They’re not getting any information,” Fred Sherrod said.

As of last week, the Madison County Health Department reported Stearns Nursing and Rehab had 91 COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths.

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