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Health care workers implore OSHA for more oversight on COVID-19 safety


 

Unions call for sanctions

Unions are both decrying the lack of enforcement thus far and seeking more oversight going forward.

In August, the National Nurses’ United (NNU) union filed a complaint to implore OSHA to investigate the country’s biggest hospital systems, HCA Healthcare, which operates 184 hospitals and about 2,000 other care sites in 21 states and the United Kingdom. The union describes how, throughout HCA hospitals, there is an environment conducive to the spread of coronavirus. Nurses share space and equipment, such as computers, desks, phones, bathrooms, and break rooms, where staff take off masks to eat and drink. The complaint also describes how there is resistance to testing nurses and a lack of communication about infections among colleagues.

“When they have total disregard for safety, they should be punished to the utmost,” said Markowitz, noting that HCA Healthcare is worth $40 billion. “They can penalize them, but if it’s unsafe conditions for RNs and healthcare workers, we know it’s unsafe for the patients. There needs to be drastic measures to prevent hospital corporations from behaving that way.”

In a statement, HCA spokesman Harlow Sumerford said the company has followed CDC guidance for protecting frontline caregivers. “We’re proud of our response and the significant resources we’ve deployed to help protect our colleagues. Meanwhile, the NNU has chosen to use this pandemic as an opportunity to gain publicity by attacking hospitals across the country,” Sumerford said.

Members of the union recently protested in front of the federal OSHA offices in Denver.

After several months, OSHA finally penalized a meat packing plant where eight workers (six union members) had died of COVID-19 last spring. But the amount – $15,615 – was so low that Cordova worries it will actually have a worse impact than no fine.

“It’s more dangerous to workers because now employers know [they won’t be punished meaningfully],” she said. “During the pandemic, OSHA has been absolutely absent.”

Thus, the recent picketing outside the offices in Denver. But, Cordova noted, it’s unlikely OSHA employees saw them. Their own offices were deemed too risky to stay open during the pandemic. They were vacant.

A version of this article originally appeared on Medscape.com.

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