Illinois Nurses Association files grievance with SIU health center

By Kallie Cox, Editor-in-Chief

The Illinois Nurses Association filed a grievance with the SIU Student Health Center on Dec. 11 after it alleged the university refused to alert health center staff that one of the nurses tested positive for COVID-19 and they may have been exposed.

Both the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health say employers should inform their employees of positive cases of COVID-19 in their workplace.

(See more: IDPH COVID-19 guidelines).

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(See more: CDC guidelines).

Jamie Beckman, president of the nurses union at SIU, said nurses had to notify one another via word of mouth that a nurse they worked with for two days tested positive for COVID-19. She said health center administrators refused to give any kind of notice about the exposure to staff members. 

Beckman said she couldn’t say for sure whether or not the nurse with COVID-19 had been in contact with patients those two days, but she said on any given day there are probably twenty people that flow in and out of the nurses station. This incident would have happened the week before Thanksgiving, she said.

Héctor Rosa, a staff specialist with the Illinois Nurses Association, heard about this incident during a labor management meeting and helped the nurses at SIU to file a grievance. 

“SIUC management have willfully, negligently and without just cause refused to follow IDPH contact tracing guidelines, thus causing unsafe conditions especially during the COVID-19 pandemic for the staff and students that INA members services by refusing to conduct contact tracing,” the grievance reads. 

Rosa said the health center’s administration originally tried to hide behind HIPAA and use it as an excuse for not notifying the staff of their exposure. However as long as the name is omitted, informing employees of a positive case in their workplace does not violate these privacy protections. 

Rosa and Beckman had a meeting to discuss the incident with Tracey Bennett, head of labor relations at SIU and health center administrators Ted Grace and Paul Bennett on Tuesday. 

Rosa and Beckman say the meeting did not go well. 

“Our administration at the student health center did not see any reason to notify staff members that they were in contact with somebody positive with COVID-19. They did not see any reason at all to do that and I completely disagree with that,” Beckman said.

Rosa said when he first found out about SIU’s failure to notify employees of the exposure, he was in shock and worried about the nurses, and students who went to the health center for treatment.

“To me this is a very easy fix and it can save lives and they are refusing to do it,” Rosa said. 

The Daily Egyptian reached out to the university for comment and was directed to speak with Lori Stettler, the vice chancellor for student affairs and the administrator the health center reports to.

Stettler declined to call to answer questions relating to the grievance and instead sent an email with the following two bullet points:

  • SIU Carbondale’s first priority is to ensure that our students, faculty and staff stay safe. As part of that commitment, we have had safety protocols, including testing and contact tracing, in place since last spring.
  •  We work with the Jackson County Health Department and Southern Illinois Healthcare on testing and tracing. All faculty, staff, and students are required to comply with contact tracing protocols

The DE reached out again and Stettler refused to comment. Dr. Ted Grace, the health center’s director and Dr. Paul Bennett, the medical chief of staff did not respond to requests for comment.

“As a health care worker I think you rise above and do up and beyond when it comes to COVID and it comes to your staff,” Beckman said. “We’re ambassadors of setting the standard for the community and I didn’t feel like our management wanted to rise above and be the ambassadors today.”

Editor-in-Chief Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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