Sonoma County Health Services staff returned to work say exposed to COVID

Union members say removing the remote work option is not a solution.

“I don’t see why it couldn’t continue to work,” said Paul Foster, Health Services Accountant and Local 1021 Officer. this past year has been difficult. But we succeeded. »

As part of Rivera’s directive, employees were given the option to request full-time remote work. It just became another bone of contention. A number of staff have indeed asked through their managers to work from home. (Rivera said the number was “10+.”) Every request was denied, she acknowledged.

“For exceptions which may be formal requests for accommodations along with medical notes, these would be directed to (Health Services Human Resources Department) and follow standard county practices and procedures for medical accommodations” , wrote county spokesman Matt Brown. in an email. “The county could not comment on the status of those who requested medical accommodations as it is protected information.

The exhibition notices go up

Tax staffers were also unhappy with what they perceived to be lax COVID protections on Neotomas Avenue, the administrative headquarters of the health services.

When they returned, no one was required to wear a mask; this mandate came a few days later. There was no additional social distancing system. And the air conditioning unit momentarily stopped circulating several times. At some point someone opened the patio doors outside the rest room and opened two interior doors with floor fans to increase airflow.

“No county facility was under mask mandates … however, mask recommendations were always in place,” Rivera said when asked to comment on those complaints. “Our building filtration systems have been reviewed by county risk (managers) and evaluated for any additional upgrades required for proper air quality standards for smoke and COVID regulations; if additional equipment was needed, it was purchased and installed. We also have air cleaners throughout the building for added protection.

Still, COVID exposure notifications started arriving within days of returning to in-person work — May 16, June 2, June 3, and most recently Wednesday.

As of Thursday, eight health services employees at the Neotomas office were absent due to symptoms or exposure to the coronavirus. Those who were known to be in close contact with an infected colleague have been told they do not have to self-quarantine, as confirmed by staff notifications shared with The Press Democrat.

Family members at risk

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

“When we returned to the office, I was left with a family member who works with an elderly patient as a caregiver, and another household member who is immunocompromised with numerous underlying health conditions,” said a tax employee who asked her name not to be used because she fears reprisals. “I didn’t feel safe when we started getting exposure notices.”

For Foster, quitting remote work had an immediate and tangible effect on her 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 service workers first returned to the office three days a week, Foster said, he was no longer able to ensure his father was eating properly and staying safe. His sister in Roseville agreed to take him in.

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

Foster’s father was released from hospital on Tuesday.

Morale is low in Neotomas, the workers insist. And attendance too. On June 2, Joly texted there were 16 people in the tax department, by his count — about half the staff. On Tuesday, she texted to say there were still at least 12 people there.

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

“An extra thing” for companies

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

While Sonoma County businesses are not experiencing the severe staffing shortages of the first Omicron wave in early January, the shortages persist, said Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber. It’s not entirely due to COVID.

“It’s like the only extra thing that makes it harder,” Rumble said. “It’s like, ‘We can’t fill a handful of positions. And on top of that, the positions that I’m in, we have to work around the downtime due to illness.'”

It all adds up to a difficult math for business leaders: when is it safe to meet in an office and which positions are most likely to benefit from face-to-face interaction? Rumble generally favors openness as much as possible.

“The CDC tells us it’s endemic now,” he said. “And infection today doesn’t mean the same as it did in March 2020. If we hear from the highest medical authority and they say it’s endemic, then we have to start living our lives as if it’s was endemic. This means we need to get vaccinated and get on with our lives.

Rivera called the health services back-to-work order temporary. The assumption is that it will be in effect until July 31, the end of the accounting balance for the fiscal year. After Wednesday’s meeting, Jana Blunt — SEIU Local 1021 president and Sonoma County Voter Clerk-Recorder-Assessor-Registrar employee — has second thoughts.

“She was unable to provide an estimated date, but our inference is that there will be no future time when Ms. Rivera feels that teleworking will again be appropriate for staff if the determining factor is the existence of a backlog,” Blunt said.

Rivera did not offer a firm timetable in exchanges with The Press Democrat.

“We cannot have programs without stable infrastructure and funding,” she said. “There are times when temporary measures are needed to address very concerning issues. This is one of those times.”

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

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