About 600 Nova Scotia Health employees are off work due to COVID-related isolation

About 600 Nova Scotia Health employees are currently off work, either because they have tested positive for COVID-19 or because they are close contacts to someone who has.

Colin Stevenson, the health agency’s vice president of quality and system performance, said Thursday that the number has dropped from last week, when 721 employees were at home due to self-isolation.

About half of the 600 workers are in the central zone, and half of the workers affected are registered nurses, licensed practical nurses or nurses, reflecting the percentage of workers who are nursing staff.

There are approximately 21,750 full-time and part-time employees working for Nova Scotia Health, not including casuals.

“There is absolute concern as it relates to the impact of this current wave of COVID and what it does in terms of the ability to provide services,” Stevenson said.

Nova Scotia Health has so far dealt with shortages by asking staff to work extra shifts, relocating staff to other tasks and asking staff to return early from vacation or cancel surgeries.

Colin Stevenson is Vice President of Quality at Nova Scotia Health. (CBC)

Prime Minister Tim Houston acknowledged the strain on the health care system during a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday.

“People who work in healthcare are under significant pressure even without COVID, so when we first start losing people because they need to be isolated or because they themselves are sick, it’s an incredible amount of pressure on the system.”

But Houston said health professionals have been “amazing.”

“They dig deep and they make sure things continue to work out and I have full confidence that they will continue to do so.”

Work insulation protocol

Prince Edward Island announced on Wednesday that it will allow employees who are close contacts to people who have tested positive to continue working if they are tested every day. As a last resort, crucial staff may be allowed to work even if they test positive for COVID-19 if it means saving a patient’s life or preventing serious injury.

Stevenson said that if the situation in Nova Scotia got to a point where the health authority could not provide core services such as intensive care, it would implement its work isolation protocol.

This protocol would allow employees who are close contacts to work, but they would be required to test every 48 hours, monitor their health twice a day at work, maintain physical distance, including during breaks, and wear protective equipment.

If an employee working under the protocol became symptomatic, they would not be allowed to stay at work.

Stevenson said it’s not part of Nova Scotia Health’s protocol right now to let an employee work if they test positive.

“If we reached a point where we were not able to cover necessary services using all other approaches, then we would have to look at what the options are, what we need to do … and the risk of “that someone in the organization works it is positive for COVID. We really want to avoid it as much as possible.”

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