Are Vital Home Health Workers Now A Safety Threat?

Training Temporary Workers

As hospitals gear up for a surge in patients, staffing companies that employ temporary nurses say they are seeing an uptick in demand. But having nurses rotate out of various health facilities could increase the infection risk, said Saskia Popescu, a senior infection prevention specialist at HonorHealth, a large health system in Phoenix.

“The more people you are exposed to in the hospital, the higher the risk,” she said.

But she added that the risk is mitigated when hospital staffers make sure temporary workers follow the hospital’s infection-control rules. “When you are using contracted staff, you are dependent on that staff member having the right education and training,” she said.

The problem for services providing nurses in patients’ homes or facilities using temporary nurses is these workers may not have the same infection-control training as nurses in higher-risk areas, such as hospital emergency rooms, she said.

“I don’t feel like we give them as much attention when it comes to infection control,” Popescu said. “And they may not know where the risks are.”

Lynne Gross, president of RNnetwork, a nursing temp agency based in Boca Raton, Florida, said her nurses have to fill out a survey and attest that they are in good health and have not knowingly been exposed to the coronavirus before starting a new assignment.

“If they have any flu-like symptoms, they have to wait out a two-week quarantine period,” Gross said.

Personal aides who help patients at home with nonmedical needs, such as preparing meals and dressing, are also taking new precautions.

“Our staff is doing a lot more cleaning and wiping down of surfaces in homes, with disinfectant,” said Lawrence Meigs, CEO of Visiting Angels, a Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania-based company that provides home care and has about 600 franchises across the country.

He said the aides are still making visits.

“We consider our caregivers essential personnel,” he said.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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