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The Case of the Resistant Receptionist

When front desk staff comes to work despite a known COVID exposure in her family, what’s an office … and patients … to do when they find out?

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.

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.

“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.

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]
Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual businesses and people.

“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 office 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!”

“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?”


1. 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?

2. Is there any scenario in which you would fire a staff person for not self-reporting COVID exposure? Why or why not?

3. Should offices have a financial responsibility to hourly staff who need to quarantine? Does your office?

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