St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center on Monday dropped a policy that had required employees to use their own sick and vacation time if they needed to be quarantined for 14 days for coronavirus exposure.

Nurses from the Lewiston hospital criticized St. Mary’s policy last week, contending it was unfair to require they use their earned time – a combination of sick and vacation time – if forced to quarantine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As of Monday, Maine had 499 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 92 hospitalized.

The hospital’s new policy says employees who are quarantined for coronavirus exposure that is work-related will receive their regular pay, St. Mary’s president Steven Jorgensen said in a memo to hospital employees Monday. Employees who are quarantined because they contract COVID-19 will have an additional two weeks of earned time to draw from, according to the memo. Employees who were previously quarantined and used earned time will have their earned time restored.

“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.

Harold Herschlag, an emergency room nurse who criticized the policy last week, said 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 other hospitals that don’t have such a policy in place during the pandemic will follow St. Mary’s lead.

Maine’s two largest hospital systems already had policies in place that gave workers regular pay while quarantined for COVID-19 exposure. MaineHealth – which includes Maine Medical Center in Portland and eight other hospitals – and Northern Light, which includes Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland and seven other hospitals in Maine, both provided exposed workers their regular pay.

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.

“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” said Kelly David, St. Joseph Hospital spokeswoman.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston offers employees who are required to quarantine a choice to apply for short-term disability, use the system’s “extended sick leave bank” or use their own paid time off. Those who use the sick leave bank are paid 60 percent of their pay.

 

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