Leave policies should support sick nursing home workers staying home to avoid spreading infection
Preventing infection is vital in facilities like nursing homes to cut the risk of transmitting illnesses. That means employees at healthcare sites must learn to stay home when sick.
HealthLeaders revealed a study that found healthcare workers often come to work sick and that flexible sick leave policies may help stop that.
What causes infections in nursing homes?
The study was published last fall in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. Researchers observed respiratory viral infections among residents and workers at a 120-bed, long-term care facility in the St. Louis area. The study took place from December 2015 to April 2016.
Respiratory infections at the facility were more common in staff than in patients, and staff frequently worked while ill.
Staff and patients in the study were monitored for acute respiratory illness symptoms, such as with nasal and throat swabs.
For the study, acute respiratory illness was identified if the patient had a fever of more than 99.1°F, headache, sore throat, shortness of breath, chills, muscle and/or joint pain, coughing, wheezing, fatigue, congestion or runny nose or change of mental status or confusion.
Eighteen employees and four patients were reported to have an acute respiratory illness. That was from a pool of 76 employees and 105 patients studied. Of the staffers studied, 89 percent of those who reported illness said they worked when they were sick.
Medical officials noted that the study had limitations. It was done at only one long-term care facility and cannot represent the state of the entire healthcare industry. The study was done during one, rather mild, respiratory virus season, said Dr. Hilary M. Babcock, who led the study and is a professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.
Also, the study did not show a direct transmission of respiratory viruses between patients and staff.
Still, the study was helpful. It reiterated that infection prevention remains paramount in healthcare settings to help in reducing the spread of illnesses.
How to prevent infections in nursing homes
To help workers, facilities should consider strengthening communication, enforcing work restrictions and ensuring policies are practical for all workers.
One way to keep sick employees at home is to enforce a leave policy that employees can follow without fear of retribution.
Also, a cultural change might be needed, given that the philosophy among these workers tends to be that they should avoid letting down their colleagues by calling in sick.
Tips in dealing with potentially deadly infections in nursing homes include:
- All employees should stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after their fever — meaning a temperature of 100°F or higher — breaks.
- Not everyone with the flu will present with a fever. Individuals with suspected or confirmed flu who do not have a fever should stay home from work at least four to five days after the onset of symptoms. Flu sufferers are most contagious during the first three days of illness.
- Workers who have symptoms upon arrival to work or become ill during the day should separate from other workers and go home until at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.
- In recognition that employees may stay home due to their own illness or that of a family member, plan ways for an essential business to continue despite absences. For example, cross-train staff.
Contact Braswell Murphy & Grubb Lawyers today for help with deadly infections in nursing homes.