St. Mary’s hospital in Lewiston is now allowing health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 to work in-person. Credit: Courtesy of CBS 13/WGME

St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston is now allowing health care workers who have tested positive with COVID to show up to work.

The move aligns with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance updated last month, certain COVID-positive health care workers are allowed to return to work to “alleviate the strain on hospitals that are in ‘crisis.’”

“We really did have to make that decision which would allow, not force, but allow employees, if they are minimally symptomatic and have tested positive, to potentially return to work,” St. Mary’s Health System Chief Medical Officer Doug Smith said.

St. Mary’s staff say that this protocol will be in place until they are no longer in a staffing crisis.

The chief medical officer says they only lost eight nurses due to the vaccine mandate. The crisis is more about the number of COVID patients filling up the beds and putting pressure on staff.

The chief medical officer said that with how short staffed they are, allowing employees to return to work while having COVID is in some cases the only way to make sure patients are getting the care they need.

“We want to make sure we maintain a core amount of staff, especially clinical staff,” Smith said.

Smith said that in the last week, about 70 employees have been out with COVID each day.

So far, two staff members with COVID have returned to work since they implemented this new rule last week.

“I feel as if people are doing the proper use of personal protective equipment, it’s safe both for themselves and others,” Smith said.

“The protocols that are being used right now just are putting people at risk,” former St. Mary’s worker Scott Gallant said.

Gallant worked at St. Mary’s for six years. He said that this protocol puts health care workers in a difficult position.

“They’re extremely frustrated,” Gallant said. “They are very concerned about the patients, they’re very concerned about their own wellbeing. They don’t want to be there, they don’t feel good, they’re afraid of retaliation if they don’t show up, it’s a really bad situation for everybody.”

St. Mary’s, along with city leaders, are urging people to mask and get vaccinated as cases go up.

“We need to look at this not as divisive, but as a public health issue and do our best to help mitigate the spread of COVID,” Lewiston Ward 7 Councilor Stephanie J. Gelinas said.