Boston hospital workers test positive for coronavirus as nurses call for more help

At least 68 employees at Boston hospitals have tested positive for coronavirus, a trend that could further strain the stressed health care system as the virus continues to spread and Massachusetts nurses are calling for more staff.

“We should be using this time right now to recruit, train and deploy nurses to respond to this pandemic. In the coming weeks we will need all our frontline health care workers,” read a letter from the Massachusetts Nurses Association that was sent to Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday.

The letter said health care facilities continue to fall short on medical equipment supplies, coronavirus tests and employing vital staff members.

“We will need nurses who can staff any newly designated acute care or ICU units. The state should be working with health care facilities to coordinate this redeployment of health care staff and ensure they are properly trained,” wrote Donna Kelly-Williams, MNA president. It was the third letter sent to Baker since the outbreak began.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital reported a total of 33 employees with coronavirus as of Tuesday and Tufts Medical Center reported 29 employees who have tested positive, according to spokesmen from each hospital.

Boston Medical Center has six employees with COVID-19, the hospital confirmed, and a spokesman from Massachusetts General Hospital said “several” employees have tested positive but didn’t have an exact number.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is not providing numbers about employees, a spokeswoman said.

For those who get sick, Kelly-Williams said some nurses around the state are stuck using paid time off to recover.

“This is unacceptable,” she said. “We are putting them in the direct path of this novel virus and we should be supporting them, not penalizing them.”

Many hospitals, such as Tufts Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, have canceled elective surgeries and redeployed staff from those areas.

Dr. Shira Doron, infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, had said in addition to shifting the hospital’s staffing model, some workers were being cross-trained to take on more responsibilities and minimize the number of people interacting with infected patients.

Legislation moving through the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday could relax requirements to bolster the health care workforce by allowing independent practice authority for a number of board-certified health care workers.

The bill would also allow the Board of Registration in Nursing to reduce the two-year supervised practice requirement if deemed necessary.

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