St. Mary's Regional Medical Center will give quarantined employees their “regular pay” instead of requiring them to use their own sick and vacation time. Credit: Courtesy of St. Mary's Regional Medical Center

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A Lewiston hospital will give quarantined employees their “regular pay” instead of requiring them to use their own sick and vacation time should they be exposed to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The Portland Press-Herald reports that St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center president Steven Jorgensen also told hospital employees on Monday that those quarantined because they fell ill from COVID-19 will have an additional two weeks of earned time to draw from. Employees who used earned time in quarantine will have that time restored, according to his memo.

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Nurses from the hospital criticized St. Mary’s policy last week, contending that it was unfair to use their own earned time — a combination of sick and vacation time — if they had to be quarantined. Maine’s two largest hospital systems already had policies in place that gave workers regular pay for quarantines. MaineHealth — which includes Maine Medical Center in Portland — and Northern Light Heath, which includes Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and seven other Maine hospitals, both did not make employees use sick or vacation time when quarantined, the Press-Herald reports.

“We will do better. We will improve our decisions, as this situation is moving very quickly, but I pledge to you that we will always keep our staff and mission forefront in our decisions,” Jorgensen wrote in the memo.

Harold Herschlag, an emergency room nurse who criticized the policy last week, told the Press-Herald that he’s pleased the hospital has changed course.

“St. Mary’s is a good hospital and I’m glad they decided to do the right thing,” Herschlag said. He said he hopes if there are other hospitals that have sub-par policies for its workers during the pandemic, that they will follow St. Mary’s lead and make improvements.

St. Mary’s is a 233-bed hospital and a member of Covenant Health, a Catholic-based Massachusetts health care company that includes hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, rehabilitation centers and other health care services. St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor is also part of Covenant Health.

“If an employee at St. Joe’s is quarantined due to COVID-19 they will not need to use earned time, and will be paid for their time,” Kelly David, St. Joseph Hospital spokeswoman, said.