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MNA: Brigham and Women’s Hospital Tells Nurses to Care for Patients Despite Living with COVID-19 Positive Family Members

During resurgent pandemic, MNA nurses outraged at BWH measures that are less safe than CDC and DPH guidelines

BOSTON, Mass. – Registered nurses who care for patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital are being told to report to work even though family members who live with them have tested positive for COVID-19

Brigham nurses, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, are calling on the hospital to effectively implement a change in policy to reflect the recognized science of COVID-19 – including extensive asymptomatic spread – and implement the stronger safety standards employed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Public Health.

In recent weeks, nurses in multiple units at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, including labor and delivery and the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), have learned that immediate family members such as a spouse or child have been exposed to COVID-19 and tested positive. Those nurses then called occupational health and/or a manager at the hospital and were told they should report for their next shift in direct patient care roles. This was extremely alarming to the nurses, who feared they could also have COVID-19, or could develop it through prolonged exposure to their family members, and spread it to patients or other staff, who could then spread the virus further in the hospital and community.

“We have no closer contacts than our immediate family members,” said Trish Powers, OR/Trauma RN and Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “It makes zero sense to send exposed nurses back into the hospital to care for patients. Nurses can have COVID-19 without symptoms and spread it to their patients or colleagues and back out into the community.”

CDC guidelines say healthcare professionals who have had “prolonged close contact” with a COVID-19 positive patient, visitor, or other healthcare professional while not wearing PPE should not work for 14 days following exposure. There is a staffing shortage exception in the CDC guidelines, but the Brigham is not currently facing staff shortages.

The Brigham’s inconsistent safety practices during the pandemic have made it even more risky to send nurses exposed to COVID-19 positive family members immediately back to the bedside. Brigham nurses have extensively documented the hospital’s failure to adhere to social distancing standards.

Crowded shuttles and elevators have not been addressed. The Boston Globe has reported a lack of social distancing in break rooms and other areas may have led to the COVID-19 cluster at the Brigham this fall. The hospital has refused to reinstate its previous visitor policy that helped contain the spread, and instead is allowing excessive numbers of visitors throughout the hospital – including permitting support people in labor and delivery who have not been tested for COVID-19.

The Brigham’s actions around COVID-19 exposure stand in contrast to much stronger standards from CDC, DPH and other employers and industries.

  • The Commonwealth of Massachusetts “COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment” guidance says “People can spread COVID19 up to 48 hours before they have symptoms” and “If you have been exposed to possible COVID-19 contact, you will be directed to quarantine by self-monitoring at home in case you get sick.”
  • Dr. Mark Siedner of Mass. General Hospital – like BWH also part of Mass General Brigham – told CBS Boston last month that NFL players exposed to COVID-19 positive people should quarantine for 14 days.
  • Boston Public Health Commission guidance for residential treatment facilities, detox centers, sober houses, group homes, etc.: “Staff with a close contact or household member who is ill with COVID-19 symptoms or has been confirmed as a case should be excluded from the building for a minimum of 2 weeks.”
  • Boston Public Health Commission guidance for multi-family buildings such as apartments: “Staff with a close contact or household member who is ill with COVID-19 symptoms or has been confirmed as a case should be excluded from the building for a minimum of 2 weeks.”
  • The Mayor of Gloucester and its public health director issued a public statement on COVID-19 protocols last week that directly addressed contact with positive family members, saying, “If you live with someone who is isolating and has tested positive for COVID-19, your last day of quarantine will be 14 days from when the person with COVID-19 first began their isolation period. If you have close contact with a member of your household who has COVID-19 after they began their isolation, you will have to restart your 14 day quarantine.”
  • Harvard University – a teaching affiliate of Brigham and Women’s Hospital – tells its students that if they receive a notice they have been exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 “it's incredibly important to minimize your movement and exposure to others.”
  • Many Massachusetts first responders have been told to quarantine after exposure to people found to be positive with COVID-19, including MBTA Police, Worcester firefighters, Chicopee police, and Boston EMS.
  • In other areas of society, it is standard for people exposed to COVID-19 positive people to be quarantined:

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Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.