Sonoma County Health Services Staff, Forced to Return to Work, Says Exposed to COVID

Union members argue that removing the remote working option is not a solution.

“I don’t see why it couldn’t continue to work,” said Paul Foster, a health services accountant and Local 1021 official. “We were able to close the fiscal year end in July 2021. Sure, this last year is been difficult. But we succeeded. “

As part of Rivera’s policy, employees were given the option to apply for full-time remote work. It has simply become another bone of contention. A number of staff members actually requested through the executives to work from home. (Rivera said the number was “10+.”) Every request was denied, he acknowledged.

“For those exceptions that might be formal requests for housing with accompanying medical notes, these would go to the (human resources department of health services) and follow the county’s standard practices and procedures for medical accommodation,” wrote the County spokesman Matt Brown in an email. “The county was unable to comment on the status of those requesting medical accommodation because it is protected information. “

Exposure warnings increase

Tax staff members were also appalled by what they perceived as negligent COVID protections on Neotomas Avenue, the administrative headquarters of health services.

When they first returned, no one had to wear a mask; that warrant came several days later. No social distancing system has been added. And the air conditioner temporarily stopped circulating on several occasions. At one point, someone opened the patio doors off the rest room and opened two interior doors with floor fans to increase airflow.

“No county facility was subject to a masking mandate … however, the recommendations on masks have always been in place,” Rivera said when asked to comment on those complaints. “Our building filtration systems have been analyzed by county risk (executives) and evaluated for any additional updates required to appropriate air quality standards for smoke and COVID regulations; if additional equipment was needed, it was purchased and installed. We also have air purifiers throughout the building for added protection. “

However, notifications about COVID exposure began arriving within days of returning to work in person, on May 16, June 2, June 3, and most recently Wednesday.

As of Thursday, eight health services employees at Neotomas’s office were out due to symptoms or exposure to the coronavirus. Those who were known to be in close contact with an infected colleague were told they should not go into quarantine, as confirmed in staff notifications shared with The Press Democrat.

Family members at risk

Several employees said their circumstances had changed during the pandemic and it was not easy for them to quickly return to work on site. For some, this had to do with vulnerable relatives.

“When we got back to the office, I was left with a family member who works with an elderly patient as a caretaker and another family member who is immunocompromised with many underlying health conditions,” said a tax worker who asked for her name. not be used because it fears retaliation. “I didn’t feel safe when we started getting exposure alerts.”

For Foster, leaving remote work had an immediate and tangible effect on his family.

“I’m sitting in the hospital right now because I’ve been called back to the office,” he said Tuesday.

Foster’s father, who turned 84 in May, was living with him during the pandemic. When health services employees returned to the office for the first time three days a week, Foster said, he was no longer able to make sure his father ate properly and was safe. His sister in Roseville agreed to welcome him.

“But she came to Santa Rosa and was exposed to COVID,” Foster said. “If I didn’t have to work, she would have been home with me.”

Foster’s father was released from the hospital on Tuesday.

Morale is low in Neotomas, the workers insist. And so is presence. On June 2, Joly wrote that there were 16 people in the tax department, according to his tally, about half the staff. On Tuesday he wrote to say that there were still at least 12 people.

“We have six accountants,” Foster said. “Yesterday, I think I was only one inside.”

‘One more thing’ for companies

Healthcare services are far from the only work environment that has to make virus risk calculations. The county epidemiology team is currently investigating 18 reports of possible outbreaks in workplaces such as grocery and retail stores, manufacturing sites and wineries, said Brown, a spokesperson for the county..

While Sonoma County companies don’t see the severe staff shortage of Omicron’s first wave in early January, the shortages persist, said Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber. This isn’t entirely due to COVID.

“This is like the one extra thing that makes it more challenging,” Rumble said. “It’s like, ‘We can’t fill a handful of positions. And what’s more, the positions I have, we have to circumvent the time out due to the disease. ‘”

It all adds up to a difficult calculation for business managers: When is it safe to get together in an office and which job positions will benefit most from face-to-face interaction? Rumble generally favors opening as much as possible.

“The CDC is telling us this is endemic now,” he said. “And infection today doesn’t mean the same thing as March 2020. If we hear the highest medical authority and say it’s endemic, then we need to start living our lives as if it’s endemic. This means we have to get our vaccinations and get on with our lives ”.

Rivera framed the health services return-to-work order as temporary. The assumption is that it will be in effect until July 31, the end of the fiscal year-end account balance. After Wednesday’s meeting, Jana Blunt, president of SEIU Local 1021 and employee of the Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor-Registrar of Voters, has her doubts.

“She was unable to provide an estimated date, but our inference is that there will not be a time in the future when Ms. Rivera believes telecommuting will be appropriate for staff again if the determining factor is whether there is a backlog of work, ”Blunt said.

Rivera did not offer an accurate timeline in exchanges with The Press Democrat.

“We can’t have programs without stable infrastructure and funding,” he said. “There are times when temporary measures are needed to address issues of great concern. This is one of those times. “

You can contact Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or [email protected] On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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