The complaint logs show thousands of desperate pleas from workers seeking better protective gear for their hospitals, medical offices and nursing homes.
How high will the COVID-19 death toll rise?Former White House homeland security official and ABC News contributor Tom Bossert speaks out on why cases are increasing across the U.S. and the rising death toll.Win McNamee/Getty ImagesThis is a Kaiser Health News story
.COVID-19 cases were climbing at Michigan’s McLaren Flint hospital. So Roger Liddell, 64, who procured supplies for the hospital, asked for an N95 respirator for his own protection, since his work brought him into the same room as COVID-positive patients.
But the hospital denied his request, said Kelly Indish, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 875.On March 30, Liddell posted on Facebook that he had worked the previous week in both the critical care unit and the ICU and had contracted the virus. “Pray for me God is still in control,” he wrote. He died April 10.
The hospital’s problems with personal protective equipment (PPE) were well documented. In mid-March, the state office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received five complaints, which described employees receiving “zero PPE.” The cases were closed April 21, after the hospital presented paperwork saying problems had been resolved. There was no onsite inspection, and the hospital’s written response was deemed sufficient to close the complaints, a local OSHA spokesperson confirmed.
The grief and fear gripping workers and their families reflect a far larger pattern. Since March, more than 4,100COVID-related complaintsregarding health care facilities have poured into the nation’s network of federal and state OSHA offices, which are tasked with protecting workers from harm on the job.
A KHN investigation found that at least 35 health care workers died after OSHA received safety complaints about their workplaces. Yet by June 21, the agency had quietly closed almost all of those complaints, and none of them led to a citation or a fine.
MORE: Analysis: Virus surge forces Arizona gov's hand on masksThe complaint logs, which have been made public, show thousands of desperate pleas from workers seeking better protective gear for their hospitals, medical offices and nursing homes.The quick closure of complaints underscores the Trump administration’s hands-off approach to oversight, said former OSHA official Deborah Berkowitz. Instead of cracking down, the agency simply sent letters reminding employers to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, said Berkowitz, now a director at the National Employment Law Project.
“This is a travesty,” she said.Roger Liddell, 64, who procured supplies at Michigan’s McLaren Flint hospital, died of complications of COVID-19, after being denied an N95 respirator mask.Roger Liddell, 64, who procured supplies at Michigan’s McLaren Flint hospital, died of complications of COVID-19, after being denied an N95 respirator mask.
Courtesy of Bill Sohmer via Kaiser Health NewsA third of the health care-related COVID-19 complaints, about 1,300, remain open and about 275 fatality investigations are ongoing.During a June 9 legislative hearing, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said OSHA had issued one coronavirus-related citation for violating federal standards. A Georgia nursing home was fined $3,900 for failing to report worker hospitalizations on time, OSHA’s
records show.“We have a number of cases we are investigating,” Scalia said at the Senate Finance Committee hearing. “If we find violations, we will certainly not hesitate to bring a case.”A March 16 complaint regarding Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey, illustrates the life-or-death stakes for workers on the front lines. The complaint says workers were “not allowed to wear” masks in the hallway outside COVID-19 patients’ rooms even though
studies have since shownthe highly contagious virus can spread throughout a health care facility. It also said workers “were not allowed adequate access” to PPE.Nine days later, veteran Clara Maass registered nurse Barbara Birchenough texted her daughter: “The ICU nurses were making gowns out of garbage bags. … Dad is going to pick up large garbage bags for me just in case.”
Kristin Carbone, the eldest of four, said her mother was not working in a COVID area but was upset that patients with suspicious symptoms were under her care.In a text later that day, Birchenough admitted: “I have a cough and a headache … we were exposed to six patients who we are now testing for COVID 19. They all of a sudden got coughs and fevers.”
“Please pray for all health care workers,” the text went on. “We are running out of supplies.”By April 15, Birchenough, 65, had died of the virus. “They were not protecting their employees in my opinion,” Carbone said. “It’s beyond sad, but then I go to a different place where I’m infuriated.”
MORE: Coronavirus drug remdesivir to cost $3,120 per patient with private insurance, irking criticsOSHA records show six investigations into a fatality or cluster of worker hospitalizations at the hospital. A Labor Department spokesperson said the initial complaints about Clara Maass remain open and did not explain why they continue to appear on a “closed” case list.
Nestor Bautista, 62, who worked closely with Birchenough, died of COVID-19 the same day as she did, according to Nestor’s sister, Cecilia Bautista. She said her brother, a nursing aide at Clara Maass for 24 years, was a quiet and devoted employee: “He was just work, work, work,” she said.
Nestor Bautista, 62, who worked at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, N.J., died of complications of COVID-19.Nestor Bautista, 62, who worked at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, N.J., died of complications of COVID-19.Courtesy of Cecilia Bautista via Kaiser Health News
Responding to allegations in the OSHA complaint, Clara Maass Medical Center spokesperson Stacie Newton said the virus has “presented unprecedented challenges.”“Although the source of the exposure has not been determined, several staff members” contracted the virus and “a few” have died, Newton said in an email. “Our staff has been in regular contact with OSHA, providing notifications and cooperating fully with all inquiries.”
Other complaints have been filed with OSHA offices across the U.S.Twenty-one closed complaints alleged that workers faced threats of retaliation for actions such as speaking up about the lack of PPE. At a Delaware hospital, workers said they were not allowed to wear N95 masks, which protected them better than surgical masks, “for fear of termination or retaliation.” At an Atlanta hospital, workers said they were not provided proper PPE and were also threatened to be fired if they “raise[d] concerns about PPE when working with patients with Covid-19.”
Of the 4,100-plus complaints that flooded OSHA offices, over two-thirds are now marked as “closed” in an OSHA database. Among them was a complaint that staffers handling dead bodies in a small room off the lobby of a Manhattan nursing home weren’t given appropriate protective gear.
More than 100 of those cases were resolved within 10 days. One of those complaints said home health nurses in the Bronx were sent to treat COVID-19 patients without full protective gear. At a Massachusetts nursing home that housed COVID patients, staff members were asked to wash and reuse masks and disposable gloves, another complaint said. A complaint about an Ohio nursing home said workers were not required to wear protective equipment when caring for COVID patients. That complaint was closed three days after OSHA received it.
It remains unclear how OSHA resolved hundreds of the complaints. A Department of Labor spokesperson said in an email that some are closed based on an exchange of information between the employer and OSHA, and advised reporters to file Freedom of Information Act requests for details on others.
“The Department is committed to protecting America’s workers during the pandemic,” the Labor Department said in a statement. “OSHA has standards in place to protect employees, and employers who fail to take appropriate steps to protect their employees may be violating them.”
The agencyadvised its inspectorson May 19 to place reports of fatalities and imminent danger as a top priority, with a special focus on health care settings. Since late March, OSHA has opened more than 250 investigations into fatalities at health care facilities, government records show. Most of those cases are ongoing.
According to the mid-March complaints against McLaren Flint, workers did not receive needed N95 masks and “are not allowed to bring them from home.” They also said patients with COVID-19 were kept throughout the hospital.Filing complaints, though, did little for Liddell, or for his colleague, Patrick Cain, 52. After the complaints were filed, Cain, a registered nurse, was treating people still awaiting the results of COVID-19 diagnostic tests — potentially positive patients ― without an N95 respirator. He was also working outside a room where potential COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatments that
can spread the virus widely in the air. Read more: ABC News »
Trump not caring. and what about the active security industry where the majority must come in direct contact with citizens on a regular consistent basis Four months later and we still can't provide protective gear for our health workers. The US doesn't seem so great. We've become like a third-word country.
Why do we still not have enough P.P.E.? Where did you get this pic ABC? I thank you all so much for the work you do, as long as they say that this virus is killing more people of color than any one else Trump will block medical supplies, keep up the fight Trump will be out coming this January.JustSaying
Call the governor. You think trump should answer all your soy boy - girl problems. Vote out all democrats. Do black people know BLM is now a white radical liberal Democrat movement. its purpose to terrorize black neighborhoods, raise money for the DNC and provide cover to call anyone a rasict who criticizes their horrific nazi acts they make fools of blacks
This was happening in February! Doctors were writing personal letters directly to trump. This man is plain evil. Just disgusting. Are the state governors who are responsible for this aware? Hey Humpty Trumpty, give Justin a call and find out how we’ve managed to tackle COVID in Canada. It’s hugely beautiful.
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