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Does This Receptionist Deserve Leniency for Not Following COVID Protocol to the Letter?

Her son goes to a daycare where a teacher’s husband tested positive; and she came to work!

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LISA? WHAT ARE you doing here?”

Northway Optometry’s three receptionists stopped what they were doing and looked up in unison at the patient who had just approached the giant check-in counter. Her tone held reproach, fear and anger.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at [email protected]

The patient repeated herself, louder. “Why are you at work?”

Lisa was seated at the middle computer and remained silent. “What’s happening?” one of the other receptionists said quietly to Lisa. “Are you okay?”

“Can you please call your manager over? NOW?” the patient directed this at the other receptionist before taking two steps back into the reception area.

Supervisor Mary met the patient a few moments later. “Your receptionist has been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID,” the patient announced.

Mary wished she could bring the patient back to an exam room for privacy but there were very few places in the office she could stand socially distanced. The seven patients seated in earshot looked up and around. Behind her mask, Mary’s face flushed. “Thank you for telling me,” she said.

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“I’ll call to reschedule,” the patient said, already walking towards the front door.

Mary addressed the waiting room: “Folks I need to speak with the receptionist but I will be back!”

Mary pulled both Lisa and Dr. Fodero the practice owner into the empty staff kitchen and locked the door.

“Lisa, we need to understand what is going on,” Mary said. “Have you been exposed to COVID?”

“Not exactly,” she replied. “My youngest, Zak, he’s in daycare and the teacher’s husband tested positive two days ago. The center is closed for the next two weeks while they both quarantine.”

“And that patient knew?” Mary asked.

“My oldest is friends with her daughter, that’s probably why she knows where Zak goes,” she shrugged.

Dr. Fodero shook his head. “You should have told us, Lisa,” he said. “We had a meeting about this. You signed off on the protocol. What were you thinking?”

Defensive tears welled in Lisa’s eyes. “I can’t afford not to work, Dr. Fodero,” she said. “I’m barely getting by. Losing even a few hours is hard.” She coughed away the lump in her throat. “And honestly, that’s so many degrees of separation. And we are all being so careful here—I was planning to get tested after work tomorrow but I really think I’m fine!”

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“I’d like you to head home right now, try not to touch anything or talk to anyone, try to get a COVID test. I’m going to call you in two hours, okay?” Dr. Fodero held the door as Lisa hustled out.

“What do you want to do?” Mary asked.

Dr. Fodero sighed deeply. “We have something like 20 patients left to see today …”

“No,” Mary interrupted. “I mean, we have to talk about that, but I was asking about Lisa. There have to be consequences for going against the new protocol, right?”

The Big Questions

  • What should Dr. Fodero do with this information in the middle of patient care? Do they notify patients who may have come into contact with Lisa earlier in the day?
  • Is there any scenario in which you would fire a staff person for not self-reporting COVID exposure? Why or why not?
  • Should offices have a financial responsibility to hourly staff who need to quarantine? Does your office?
John E.
El Paso, TX

News Flash: We’ve ALL been exposed to someone who has been exposed to someone who has COVID, whether you are aware of it or not. If you are that terrified of COVID, close your office until COVID is completely over with.

Michael M.
Swansea, IL

The receptionist has two degrees of separation from a COVID-positive patient. If the daycare worker tests positive then she should be isolated. If my staff worker does not report a first-degree exposure then she would be on unpaid suspension. However, reported exposure or possible secondary exposure (one degree of separation) would be compensated time off.

Ken E.
Wallingford, CT

In that scenario, that staff member would not need to quarantine nor need to be sent home. She can continue to work as normal. She is a contact of a contact (son) of a contact (teacher) of a positive person.

John L.
Nashville, IN

Where do you draw the line on “COVID safety”? Lisa was not in direct contact with anyone who has tested positive with the virus. If the office takes the temperature of all its staff, and if the staff is properly wearing PPE along with disinfecting procedures, just how much risk is there compared to seeing patients all day? According to office protocol, is Dr. Fodero going to close the office and send all the staff and himself home to quarantine for two weeks? I doubt it. When faced with an issue concerning staff, Mary needs to slow down and think rather than react. Dr. Fodero should certainly pay Mary for the time he sent her home.

Natalie Taylor is an experienced optometry practice manager for Advanced Care Vision Network and a consultant with Taylor Vision. Learn more at tayloreye.com.

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