July 23, 2020 12:09:29 pm
As of Wednesday evening, at least 61 healthcare workers (HCW) from the city, including three from private sector, have tested positive for Covid-19. Almost eight per cent of all reported cases in the city are healthcare workers.
Though early into the pandemic, many of these HCWs contracted the disease from patients, increasingly the infection seems to be transmitting among staff members across non-Covid departments in the city’s government hospitals.
In PGIMER especially, where at least 39 staffers have tested positive till now, HCWs are becoming increasingly resentful and dissatisfied with the hospital’s attitude, alleging that the administration is lax towards ensuring the staffs’ well-being.
Last week, PGIMER, which has the largest burden of active Covid cases in the city- at least 71 out of the 241 active patients are admitted there- circulated a new set of guidelines for quarantining and testing HCWs, which was immediately met with protest and furor from the junior HCWs.
The hospital withdrew the new guidelines, which was curtailing the staffers’ post-Covid duty quarantine period from seven to five days.
For now, the hospital continues to follow ICMR guidelines on quarantining and testing healthcare workers, which suggests a seven-day post-Covid duty quarantine period.
As for testing HCWs, the ICMR guideline states that workers should be split between high risk and low risk contacts on the basis of certain criteria, and only the high risk contacts should be quarantined and tested if they manifest symptoms after a period of five days.
However, HCWs express that the decision to identify high risk contacts is often arbitrary, and left to the discretion of senior consultants.
“Even if they are following ICMR guidelines, shouldn’t they go above and beyond these guidelines to ensure safety of their staff, since every other day new staffers are testing positive and we can also expose other patients to the disease,” says a nursing official working at a private ward in the hospital.
The nurse recounts that a week ago, she attended to a patient with a gastroenterological condition for seven days in a row, and the patient tested positive for Covid, but none of the staffers who had closely attended to him were quarantined or tested.
“We were scared, and even went to the head of Internal Medicine to make our case but none of us were quarantined. In fact, we were sent back to work immediately. This way you grow to resent your senior staff, who themselves are barely exposed to patients, but are easy to dismiss the requests of those who are attending to patients day in and day out,” adds the nurse.
Apart from the limited contact tracing, some HCWs also complain regarding the lack of transparency in the departments regarding the staffers who have tested positive for the disease.
“There was a colleague of mine, who I was constantly in touch with, even had lunch with him once. I found out later that he tested positive, but no official communication was made by the department. They suppress such information. If I knew, I would have immediately asked to be quarantined or at least I would have taken extra caution to safeguard my family at home. There is an atmosphere of chaos and fear in my department,” says a source from the Pathology department, from which three staffers- a nurse, a junior resident and an attendant have tested positive till now.
On being questioned about the concerns of the HCWs regarding the hospital’s insufficient efforts to quarantine and test staff and curb the potential spread of the disease within the hospital, PGIMER’s official response was that they were “earlier following ICMR guidelines for testing. The testing now has been relaxed and even people with low risk exposures are being tested”.
However, a senior doctor from the hospital revealed that the administration is worried that healthcare staff will take advantage of the quarantine guidelines, and there will be a shortage of staff at the hospital in the future if they enforce a more liberal contact tracing and quarantine policy.
“But we will be short-staffed anyway if the disease continues to spread at the hospital at the rate it is spreading now. God knows how many of us are carriers. We could spread the disease onto non-Covid patients, many of who come here for emergency care as OPD is closed, and are already in a critical condition,” says a staffer posted at the Trauma centre of the hospital.
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