Short-staffed hospitals allow asymptomatic employees to work

Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Two health care facilities in Rhode Island have allowed staff who tested positive for COVID-19 but were not displaying symptoms to work, according to state health officials.

There is currently a coronavirus outbreak at the state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital, where 28 patients has tested positive as of last week, but state officials say it’s not connected to the asymptomatic workers.

The workers were limited to areas with COVID-19-positive patients, with one exception, according to the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals.

In that case, the asymptomatic employee worked with patients who did not have the virus. There have been no cases reported among those patients, the department added.

Two asymptomatic staff members worked at Eleanor Slater Hospital on Jan. 1 and three worked Jan. 3, according to the department. The decision is consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows hospitals facing significant staffing challenges to use asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic workers, officials said.

The state health department said Jan. 3 was the last time the psychiatric hospital had asymptomatic, COVID-19-positive staff on site. The Respiratory and Rehabilitation Center of Rhode Island also used asymptomatic staff on Jan. 3, but hasn’t since, health officials said.