Omicron worsens staff shortages at Jackson Health System, union president says

Martha Baker, a registered nurse and union president at the Jackson Health System, discusses the nature of the omicron variant.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Jackson Health System continues to experience staff shortages during the coronavirus pandemic. Omicron isn’t making it any easier.

Over the last year, Jackson has been short several hundred nurses, according to Martha Baker, a registered nurse and the president of SEIU Healthcare Florida Local 1991.

“Obviously this peak of omicron has made that even worse,” Baker said on Sunday during This Week In South Florida.

The trouble now is not the influx of patients, she said, but that the omicron is so contagious many of the nurses and supporting staff who test positive are having to call in sick. Over 100 caregivers were homesick after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“I was working with management yesterday to negotiate an incentive for people to cancel their vacation time and work and to pick up extra shifts,” Baker said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released revised guidelines for healthcare workers reducing the number of isolation days after the mild to moderate symptoms appear from 10 to five days. The requirement to return to work used to be a negative test. She said that has changed as scientists learn more about the virus.

“Caregivers feel a lot of responsibility to come to work, to not leave their coworkers short ... I think the CDC is doing the responsible thing. They need to be safe. I think asymptomatic is the key characteristic ... if you have it and the viral load is so low that you test positive but have no symptoms ... the odds of spreading it are very skinny,” Baker said. “The viral load we are learning is the key and obviously the higher the viral load the sicker you generally are.”

Baker said the less acute nature of the omicron variant is resulting in fewer hospitalizations since doctors are deciding to send nine out of 10 patients who are coming to the emergency room back home.

Watch the full episode: This Week In South Florida, Dec. 26

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About the Authors:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.