Those who are putting themselves on the front lines of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic are at a high risk of contracting the illness themselves. As the crisis continues, first responders, doctors, and nurses are working tirelessly to help others, while they themselves risk getting sick at work.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), approximately 9,300 healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19, and of those, 27 have tragically lost their lives.1
As many as 5% of those infected required intensive care.2 Nevertheless, the CDC acknowledges that their data is likely a substantial undercount3. Local data can be even more disturbing. In Ohio, for example, 20% of the state’s positive tests have been from healthcare workers4. In Detroit, more than 700 workers from the Henry Ford Health System have tested positive5. In Massachusetts, more than 160 employees of the Berkshire Medical Center have been quarantined6. Here in Illinois, 68 employees – 30 of whom are nurses – tested positive at the University of Illinois Health System as of the beginning of April7. Many more healthcare workers are under home surveillance, according to the Illinois Nurses Association8. As of April 22, 2,500 Illinois healthcare workers had contracted COVID and 8 had lost their battle with the virus9.
News of doctors becoming sick has made headlines worldwide. Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistleblower doctor who had initially warned the world of the threat of COVID-19, lost his battle to the disease in February10. A doctor in Italy died after becoming sick at work when he was working without gloves due to a shortage of protective equipment11. As doctors get sick, this exacerbates already precarious staffing shortages because under CDC guidelines, depending on the type of exposure, they may be restricted from working in healthcare setting for 14 days12.
This can set of a vicious cycle of putting others at risk because staffing shortages lead to longer hours for others and thus more potential exposure to patients. This is especially troublesome for community hospitals, where isolating one doctor is feasible, but losing more than one is going to create a meaningful strain on the workforce, according to Alfred Sacchetti, MD, the spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians13. The Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services recently issued a report based on a survey of 343 hospitals across 46 states finding that hospitals cannot maintain enough staff on duty due to the crisis14.
As Alice Johnson, Executive Director of the Illinois Nurses Association (“INA”), explained, “there is no limit on the number of patients that a nurse can be assigned (to), which means that a lot of hospitals stretch their nursing staff. There aren’t enough nurses working there to begin with. Now we’re in a situation where nurses are starting to become sick and we’re looking at stretching that staff even further.”15 The Health and Human Services report also highlighted the critical shortages in personal protective equipment that doctors and healthcare workers face – such as reusing face shields and gowns that were intended for single use16. “None of this had to happen,” said Alice Johnson of the INA17. “There is no reason for nurses and other healthcare workers to be left without the equipment that they need. It is an incredible injustice, and nurses and healthcare workers deserved much better.”18
Between staffing shortages and woefully inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment, doctors and healthcare workers are at risk of getting sick at work from COVID-19. Katz Friedman is currently representing many injured healthcare employees in work accident cases against their employers and will continue to investigate claims being made by healthcare workers whether it takes place from lifting, slipping, falling, or contracting COVID-19. When making decisions regarding a work injury sustained while working as a health professional, it is wise to consult a workers’ compensation attorney to protect your interests because it is clear that the hospital or clinic already has their lawyers working trying to defeat your claim. If you or someone you know works in health care and suffers from COVID-19, the attorneys and staff of Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.