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Fearing COVID-19 spread, Fraser Health clerks push for digitization

Fearing COVID infection, health clerks want digitized systems
Royal Columbian Hospital
Health care unit clerks at facilities such as New Westminster’s Royal Columbian Hospital fear COVID may be spread by paperwork, want great digital system usage

Fearing COVID-19 infection, Fraser Health Authority (FHA) health facility clerks are resisting returning to workplaces, preferring to continue at home or have greater system digitization.

The 50-plus employees, mainly women, are program or unit clerks. They collect and handle documentation others have handled, some of them in pandemic units.

They work throughout the health authority – in hospitals large and small, home health, primary care, palliative care, rapid access clinics, emergency departments and renal, pre-transplant and post-transplant units, among many others.

And, they don’t want to handle paper that has moved through many different units, fearing the virus could be present.

Group spokeswoman Ashley Cau said moving to a fully digital system would change things. But, she added, many health care workers don’t want to take the time to scan documentation.

“Our health is less important than their convenience,” Cau said. “Some nurses are very respectful.”

She and her colleagues are the ones who handle timesheets, handle vacation scheduling and finding replacements for people who can't come in.

“It’s kind of crazy that in 2020 that everything’s not digital,” she said.

A series of emails between the clerks and staffing services leader Shauna Doughty show some workers have young children, elderly parents or other immune-compromised relatives at home. They fear exposure at work could be harmful to their loved ones.

They question with remote working already established, why FHA would demand they return to potentially threatening workplaces – especially with COVID-19 numbers on the rise.

Cau said some health care workers are not wearing masks, and not socially distancing. Each unit has differing operational rules, she said.

Further, the processing problems are causing an already-back-up payroll system to become further clogged, affecting the whole region.

It all scares the clerks, Cau said.

And, they’re all concerns Fraser Health chief medical health officer Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin takes seriously.

“I totally understand and respect the concerns of the unit clerks,” Brodkin said.

But, she stressed, paper is not a vector for virus transmission.

“I am not dismissing their concerns,” Brodkin added.

That aside, Brodkin said use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing is mandatory in health facilities.

“If an individual is observing that this practice is not being followed, they should address it to their manager so it can be addressed,” Brodkin said.

However, Brodkin said, there are times in health care when social distancing is not possible.

“That’s why PPE including masks is mandatory in those areas,” Brodkin said.

On digitization, Brodkin said the region is moving in that direction.

“Health care extraordinarily complex and there is a lot of documentation to go with it,” she said.

An August 17 email to the workers, Doughty said mixed use of from-home and workplace-based clerks was planned.

“Starting in September, we will be moving forward with establishing set work schedules that will include specific days of the week that you will be required to work onsite,” Doughty wrote.

She said the practice of scanning and sending some documents would stop and return to staff services.

The Hospital Employees Union acknowledged a request for information but provided no information on the situation.


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