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UPDATED MARCH 30: COVID-19 and health care and community social service workers: Frequently asked questions

UPDATED MARCH 30, 2020

B.C.’s health care system is on heightened alert to contain and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The BC Centre for Disease Control reports the situation regarding COVID-19 continues to evolve here in B.C., Canada and other jurisdictions in the world. The Ministry of Health, Office of the Provincial Health Officer and the BC Centre for Disease Control are working respond to this new illness and the pandemic.

HSA continues to participate in regular briefings with the Ministry of Health and employers. Up-to-date information from the BC Centre for Disease Control on pandemic planning can be found here.

 
Following are frequently asked questions and answers for health care and social service workers in BC.
I AM A RETIRED/NON PRACTICING HEALTH CARE WORKER. HOW DO I RE-REGisTER SO I CAN HELP?

Thank you!!

Contact your professional association or regulating college. They are working with public health officials to establish an expedited re-registration process to facilitate bringing support to our health care team.

Once you have reinstated your membership, contact your local facility’s human resources department and advise them you are available to be hired back to work during the pandemic.

What personal protective measures should I take as a health care worker?
  • Follow the same advice that public health officials recommend for the cold and flu season:
    • wash your hands often with soap and water, and avoid touching your face
    • cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
    • avoid others who are unwell
    • stay home when you are sick. If you see a health care provider, be sure to contact them ahead of time so you can be assessed safely
  • Masks and personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • See the BC Centre for Disease Control and Ministry of Health procedure for proper use of PPE
    • Patients under investigation should be managed with contact and droplet precautions (including eye protection) - Please note that safety glasses do not offer adequate protection from microbes. Face shields or goggles offer splash resistance to protect workers from blood and body fluid sprays and splashes.
    • Nasoparyneal (NP) swabs and throat swabs can be performed using contact and droplet precautions with surgical mask and eye protection, and do not require the use of an N95 respirator.
    • Airborne precautions including N95 respirators with eye protection should be used during aerosol-generating procedures (e.g. open suctioning of respiratory tract, intubation, bronchoscopy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
    • Your employer is  required to inform you if you need an N95 for your work and provide you with a fit test each year.
    • If an AGMP (aerosol producing medical procedure) is being performed – it must be communicated to staff. For example, a sign saying “airborne precautions” may be posted at a patient’s door.
  • HSA sought guidance on this issue from an expert in occupational hygiene.  The recommendations for use of respiratory protection are combined with use of eye protection.
      • Based on the research, we recommend the use N 95 respirators as the minimum protection when providing treatment to patients with suspected or confirmed COVID 19.
      • We recognize the challenge associated with worldwide shortages of appropriate PPEs. Where it is anticipated that logistical constraints may cause supplies of N95 disposable respirators to run out, prioritize allocation based on assessment of the extent of the potential exposure and risk.
      • Use surgical masks if N95s become unavailable due to supply constraints but resume use of N95s if and when possible.
      • We will continue to engage with the employers and public health officials to ensure all measures are being taken to improve the supply of appropriate PPE
WHEN DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE UNSAFE WORK?
  • All workers in British Columbia have the right to refuse unsafe work.
    • A worker has the right to refuse to carry out any work process or operate or cause to be operated any tool, appliance or equipment if the worker has reasonable cause to believe that to do so would create an undue hazard to the health and safety of any person, including the worker. (Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 3.12).
  • You must immediately report the circumstances of the unsafe condition to your supervisor or employer, who is obligated to immediately investigate the issue, and ensure that any unsafe condition is remedied without delay.
  • During the COVID-19 Pandemic crisis, a process has been established by HEABC employers to ensure issues related to right to refuse are dealt with expeditiously.
  • If you feel you are being asked to do work that is unsafe, report this immediately to your supervisor and contact an HSA Occupational Health and Safety Steward, or email the HSA COVID-19 hotline at covid19hotline@hsabc.org
  • Link: March 20 Memorandum to HSA Stewards on Right to Refuse
  • Link: Step-by-step procedure on how to refuse unsafe work
  • Link: Printable step-by-step procedure on how to refuse unsafe work (black and white on 8x11 paper)
What do I do IF I have been or believe I have been exposed to covid-19?
  • Call 8-1-1, your primary care provider, or public health office
    • If you are instructed by a primary care provider to self-isolate, make sure you inform your employer, and you will be placed on paid general leave. This is separate from your sick bank, and will not affect your other leave banks (i.e, vacation, special leave, etc.)
    • Link: BC Centre for Disease Control  guidelines on self-isolation 
    • If you are a casual employee, you will be placed on a general leave of absence and compensated for any accepted shifts that were canceled because of the self-isolation requirement by a primary care provider.
    • Employees are not required to get a sick note from a physician.
    • Contact your HSA steward or a staff labour relations officer if you have concerns about how your time is being coded if you are self-isolated
    • Health care worker testing sites are available. Contact your health authority for information on testing.
What should MY employer do if a case of covid-19 is confirmed in my workplace?
  • Employers have an obligation to ensure workers are informed and equipped to work in settings where there’s risk of exposure to COVID-19, and should provide timely, specific and clear direction to health care workers on the infection control protocols they will follow to avoid exposure to the virus.
I AM pregnant. What Precautions should I take?
  • You should be in touch with your primary care provider for advice. The Provincial Medical Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has recommended that although there is no evidence of increased vulnerability to infection for those who are pregnant, out of an abundance of caution the following is recommended:
    • Pregnant employees who are concerned about exposure should discuss with their employer options to be redeployed to an area where risk of exposure is minimal. Your employer must ensure adequate personal protective measures are in place.
    • If you require an accommodation because of your pregnancy status, the regular procedure is to be followed: contact your supervisor to accommodate you, including allowing you to work from home if possible. We are working with employers to expedite the process for accommodation in these cases.
I LIVE WITH MY ELDERLY PARENTS, AND I'M CONCERNED ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF EXPOSING THEM TO COVID-19. CAN I TAKE SPECIAL LEAVE TO REDUCE MY RISK OF EXPOSURE AT WORK?
  • Special leave banks do not cover staying at home to reduce risk of exposure. You may access overtime banks, vacation, and unpaid leave to stay home in this situation.
I have an underlying HEALTH CONDITION and am at risk during this pandemic. I don't think i should be at work.
  • Employees who are at a higher risk for serious illness due to COVID-19 are eligible for a medical accommodation.
    • Your employer should
      • 1) Try to redeploy you to avoid direct patient care or otherwise minimize risk of exposure
      • 2) Arrange for you to work from home where possible
        • If neither of those is possible, you may be placed on sick leave.
    • HSA is working with employers to streamline processes to allow for accommodations and appropriate leaves.
I WORK IN LONG TERM CARE at a couple of different sites. my employer has told me i can only work at one site. 
  • In an effort to slow the transmission of COVID-19 in BC’s hard-hit Long Term Care facilities, BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, issued two province-wide orders aimed at restricting movement of health care staff between Long Term Care facilities. The orders went into effect y sterday, Thursday March 26, 2020
  • HSA is working with other unions and employers daily to establish protocols and procedures to assist members to comply with the orders, and to protect your collective agreement rights.
  • Check back frequently for updated information.
  • See the March 27 information bulletin to members here.
My employer is asking me to report to work even though I think that I can work at home.  Doesn’t it make more sense for me to work at home?
  • In some circumstances, HSA members may be able to perform their work from home if the employer has the ability to provide them proper equipment and appropriate access to their files or records.  However, the employer has the right and may determine that you should report to the worksite in order to perform your duties.  
my employer says that i am an essential worker and i'm not sure that i am. 
  • The Public Health Officer has given health care and social services employers the right to determine whether or not staff members are essential to the delivery of services.
  • HSA members play a vital role on the providing caring, professional, and excellent service to patients and clients.   During a time of crisis in which the public requires access to these services, employers continue to deem our members essential.
  • HSA members may be redeployed under the employer’s redeployment policies during this time if they are not required in their usual unit, department, program, or location.
  • Members who are redeployed should be qualified and trained to perform duties without putting workers at risk as a result of changes to work duties. 
  • In all circumstances, when you are at work, the employer is responsible for ensuring that your workplace is safe while providing these services. 
I HAD CHILDCARE ARRANGED FOR SPRING BREAK, BUT WITH THE CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS, AND MY DAYCARE CLOSING, I DON’T HAVE CHILDCARE AFTER SPRING BREAK. I HAVE NO ALTERNATIVE. I HAVE TO STAY HOME.  
  • Starting the evening of March 26, Health Authority Employers have begun to survey employees about their child care needs starting next Monday, March 30. Check your employer email for details. To date, HSA is aware of processes in VIHA and PHSA. Contact your employer for details on how to register your child care needs.
  • Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix recognize the need for health care and other front line workers to get to work to provide the services British Columbians depend on.
  • All school districts have been tasked with ensuring childcare for essential service providers, and  have been working closely with government ministries (Education, Health and Children and Family Development) and childcare service providers to put plans in place to support the children of healthcare providers and other first responders.
  •  City of Vancouver  has launched Temporary Emergency Childcare for Essential Workers in response to COVID-19. The referral system will connect Essential Service Workers meeting the program’s criteria, with licensed childcare providers that are open and available for childcare during this public health crisis.
    The number of spaces made available for emergency childcare will be at the discretion of each operator, within their licensed capacity and under health protocols. Receiving a referral does not guarantee a spot. For more information: https://vancouver.ca/news-calendar/temporary-emergency-childcare-referral-system-for-essential-workers-launches.aspx?fbclid=IwAR3hNFIy7HuJrOFPBgkLPs_tvD29NihqADvDIk3lO5h5PMBfcdqpQE1EfrM

 TRAVEL AND SELF-ISOLATION
  • Link: See Public Health Agency advice for Returning Travellers
  • If you have recently returned from travel to an area where there has been a COVID-19 outbreak and public health officials have issued a travel advisory for self-isolation, self-isolate and advise your employer, and you will be placed on a paid general leave of absence. As of March 15, 2020, travel advisories for self isolation are in place for people returning from Hubei province in China, Iran, and Italy.
  • If you are returning from travel outside Canada, and are asymptomatic, contact your employer to determine if you must self-isolate before returning to work. Your employer will determine if you are considered essential, as per the March 15 letter to health care workers from the BC Chief Medical Officer. 
      • **Health care workers providing direct patient care returning from outside the country may be exempt from the general self isolation directive but will be required to self-monitor their health status. This exemption does not apply to travel from Hubei Province in China, Iran or Italy. Health care workers returning from these areas will be directed to self-isolate for 14 days. 
      • Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's March 13 letter providing this direction for health care workers  is here.
  • If you have travelled to an area not designated a COVID 19 affected region, are asymptomatic but believe you may have been exposed to COVID 19, contact 8-1-1 or your primary care provider and self-isolate if so directed. Contact your employer, and you will be placed on paid general leave while in self-isolation and awaiting further direction from your primary care provider.
  • You should continue to self-monitor, and if you develop any flu-like symptoms, contact your primary care provider or 8-1-1. If you are instructed to self-isolate while awaiting testing, contact your employer, and you will be place on paid leave.

SPECIFIC inFORMATION FOR MEMBERS COVERED BY heabc cOLLECTIVE AGREEMENTS (hspba, cba, nba)

LEAVE BANKS

  • During this extraordinary period, members may cancel pre-approved vacation and union leave. Members may cancel approved leave at their discretion. Any backfills that had been arranged will be redeployed.
      • Affiliate employers are not included in this agreement. Employees of affilate employers may only cancel approved leave by mutual agreement with the employer.
  • If you are instructed by a primary care provider to self-isolate, make sure you inform your employer, and you will be placed on paid general leave. This will not affect your other leave banks.
  • If you are a casual employee, you will be placed on a general leave of absence and compensated for any accepted shifts that were canceled because of the self-isolation requirement by a primary care provider.
  • If you contract COVID-19, you will be placed on sick leave until such time as a primary care provider clears you for return to work.
  • Contact your HSA steward or a staff labour relations officer if you have concerns about how your time is being coded if you are self-isolated.
  • **Members who choose to travel outside of Canada after the March 12, 2020 direction of the Provincial Medical Health Officer to restrict travel, and to self-isolate for 14 days upon return, are not covered by general leave provisions for the 14-day self-isolation period. Travel after March 12 is a personal decision you would be taking against the advice and direction of public health officials. You may want to check with your travel insurer what their position is on this situation.

grievances

wHAT IS HAPPENING WITH MY GRIEVANCE DURING THIS PERIOD?

  • The HPSBA and HEABC have reached an agreement to waive timelines for Employer responses to grievances.  The waiver applies to all stages of the grievance process.  This means that, if you have a grievance filed and in process, you will not hear about any stages in the process taking place for the period of the temporary agreement.  The agreement is in effect until April 30, 2020, at which time the parties will assess the process.

mY GRIEVANCE WAS REFERRED TO ARBITRATION. wHAT IS HAPPENING WITH IT NOW? 

  • HSA lawyers have conduct of grievances that have been referred to arbitration.  They may have ongoing discussions with the employer in relation to the resolution of those grievances.  The grievances may also be set for hearing.  The lawyers will contact you if there is a development with your grievance.  However, the HSPBA and HEABC have agreed that matters previously set for hearing until May 18 will be adjourned and rescheduled.  The HSA lawyer will be in contact with you about this process, and about any rescheduling of hearing dates. 

SPECIFIC INFORMATION FOR MEMBERS COVERED BY cssea collective agreements

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN I HAVE BEEN DEEMED AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE WORKER?
  • We have always known that the critical services and supports you provide to our most vulnerable members of BritishColumbia are "essential", and, under the Government's orders you have now been legally defined as essential to the functioning of our society in this pandemic.
  • The work you do has been determined to be critical to the functioning of the Province and the Government has ordered that the agencies that deliver these services and support must remain open, wherever possible. Employers must still comply with all orders of the Provincial Health Officer and with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.
  • Link: Bulletin to HSA members working in community social services 

PROGRAM FUNDING GUARANTEED TO APRIL 30, 2020 

  • The provincial government has reinforced its funding commitment to the social services sector in light of potential disruptions caused by COVID-19.
  • In a message from David Galbraith, Deputy Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, he confirmed that provincial funding arrangements with contracted social services providers remain in place. Employers are asked to keep the lines of communication with their funding ministry or agency open, and are advised to consult funders to determine ways to adapt programs so services can still be delivered safely.
  • If, after consultation with government, it is determined that services should be reduced or suspended due to the threat of COVID-19 transmission, employers will continue to receive funding. Employers are expected to pay staff and operating expenses with this continued funding. Those who experience increased costs due to staff shortages, increased overtime, or increases in client demand due to COVID-19 can receive incremental funding through to April 30, 2020.
  • Link: Government commits to continue community social services program funding

LEAVE BANKS

  • If you are sick, stay home on sick leave. You are not required to get a sick note from a physician. Link: The mandatory CSS Early Intervention program will still apply. 
  • If you are directed by a primary care provider to self-isolate either because you have returned to Canada from international travel or have or believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, you will be placed on a paid leave of absence (not sick leave) for the duration of the isolation period.
  • If you choose to travel after March 13, 2020, you are not entitled to a paid leave of absensce for the required self-isolation period.
  • CSSEA is not accepting vacation bookings in order to ensure there is staffing to meet needs. Consult with your employer for already booked vacation. If there is sufficient staffing, booked vacation should not be denied. 

HEALTH AUTHORITY RESOURCES

Interior Health : https://news.interiorhealth.ca/covid-19/
Vancouver Coastal Health: http://www.vch.ca/about-us/news/vancouver-coastal-health-statement-on-coronavirus
Island Health: https://www.islandhealth.ca/
Northern Health: https://www.northernhealth.ca/
Fraser Health: https://www.fraserhealth.ca/employees/clinical-resources/coronavirus-information/fraser-health-employee-information#.XnU5pYhKhnI
PHSA: http://www.phsa.ca/staff-resources/covid-19-resources-for-staff
Providence: http://covid19.providencehealthcare.org/