Avoiding Infectious Agents
As a nurse aide you will come in contact with infectious disease. This is a part of the job, albeit a not so fun aspect. Infection control is one of the most important skills you will learn in training. Most employers have infection control in service classes several times a year. These in service programs teach you the most up to date ways to avoid infection from disease. Infectious disease can spread through a nursing home or hospital quickly if steps are not taken to stop the spread.
Some aides wear their street clothes to work and change in a bathroom or locker room. This is done with the belief that they are nipping the spread of disease or other infection by not wearing work clothes at home. However, this practice can actually help spread infection! Your uniform should be put on at home right before leaving. Take the uniform off as soon as you arrive home. Dirty uniforms should be washed together, never with your regular clothing. Keep them in a plastic trash bag, away from other dirty clothing, much as you would bag hazardous material at work. Soiled uniforms should be washed with the hottest water the material can stand, adding a few tablespoons of bleach can kill almost all germs.
Hand sanitizer has been used in health care facilities to help combat infection. This cleaning agent should not be used to replace hand washing. Wash your hands before and after patient care and between rooms. Hand washing is the number one way to combat the spread of infection. You, as a CNA, can help house keeping by using sanitizer wipes on hard surfaces in resident rooms during morning and evening care. There is no such thing as keeping a room too clean in a nursing home or hospital.
Bring the infection control lessons home with you. Wash your hands often at home and encourage your family to do the same. Leave any work related items in a gym bag or backpack, out of the reach of children. Any germs that are on the clothing can be kept from your family if you avoid allowing the items to come in contact with your living areas and place any contaminated items inside of zip top bags. Never bring clothing from ill residents into your home and any items that come in contact with residents (thermometers in your pockets, old razors, etc) should be thrown away.
What if you still fall ill, should you go to work?
There are some CNAs that have mentioned that they are unable to call out ill at their places of employment. They are required to still come in to work and report to the supervising nurse who, in turn, will take their temperature and dispense over the counter medication or make an assessment on whether or not the aide is well enough to work.
In most states this practice is not within the scope of practice for nurses, unless the nurse is a nurse practitioner. Nursing supervisors are not in the position to diagnose or treat an illness in the place of a physician. This means that if your place of employment does not allow you to call out (or call off) from work in the event of injury or illness, they may be breaking local and state laws. Most certainly this applies to labor laws where an employee cannot be forced to work if they are ill.
Not only is this practice illegal, it is unethical. When an aide that is ill comes in to work, they are exposing everyone in the facility to their illness. Even if precautions are taken, there is a very good chance that residents and other staff members can catch the sickness the employee is suffering from. If there are residents that suffer from their own immune suppressing disease there could be far worse consequences than a few sneezes involved. There is even the possibility that a local health department could bring negligence charges against a CNA that went to work while ill if one or more residents became very ill or even died from the same sickness an aide came to work with.
If the illness is not contagious, but comes from a chronic problem such as diabetes, the employee could suffer dire health consequences that could have been prevented.
If you find that you are unable to call out at work, you may need to discuss the situation with the administrator or other person in authority. Some states are considered “at will employment” states which means that an employer can terminate your employment without a reason, but all labor boards in the United States have protections in place for workers that have been unfairly terminated due to an illness or injury that has been caused or aggravated by a job or workplace environment. Check your local labor laws and contact the state labor board if this is a problem where you work.