OSHA fines 3 hospital systems for PPE violations

OSHA has issued citations against hospitals and healthcare systems in New Jersey and Louisiana for failing to safeguard its employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic. OSHA said it would issue fines against Bergen New Bridge Medical CenterHackensack Meridian Health and Christus Shreveport-Bossier Health System.

According to OSHA, New Bridge Medical and Hackensack Meridian failed to provide employees with appropriately fitting respirator masks while they treated patients who had COVID-19. Christus Shreveport-Bossier did not give appropriate PPE to hospital employees.

OSHA levied among the highest fines possible against Christus Shreveport-Bossier and an even bigger fine against Hackensack Meridian, although they were both nominal sums in the low five figures. All three providers have until late September to comply with federal workplace regulations.

Providers have been raising the alarm about not having enough PPE throughout the COVID-19 crisis as a lack of proper equipment puts them, and their patients, at risk.

In July, a survey from National Nurses United showed nearly 90% of responding nurses said they had re-used at least one type of single-use PPE. And in April, nurses in New York sued some hospitals, claiming their workplace conditions were unsafe. These issues have even spurred labor activity in recent months.

The agency issued two serious citations to Hackensack Meridian, a 14-hospital system in Northern and Central New Jersey, for failing to provide appropriately fitting respirator masks to its home healthcare employees. It also issued a lesser violation for failing to protect employees from exposure at its hospital in North Bergen New Jersey.

OSHA also issued a similar citation against Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, part of CarePlus New Jersey, for not providing properly fitting respirator masks to its hospital employees, or appropriately training them as to when they should wear the equipment.

In the case of Christus Shreveport-Bossier, emergency department employees either did not have access to protective gowns, or had to use ones that had already been worn by other employees.

“Employers, especially those within the healthcare industry, must comply with existing standards to help ensure workers’ safety amidst the coronavirus pandemic,” OSHA Baton Rouge Area Director Roderic Chube said in a statement. “Healthcare workers must be provided proper personal protective equipment to limit the spread of the virus.”

The fines are not likely to have a big financial impact on providers with revenue well into the nine and even 10 figures. OSHA recommended fines of $28,070 for Hackensack Meridian, $13,494 for Christus Shreveport-Bossier and $9,639 for Bergen New Bridge.

Hackensack Meridian, for example, posted a profit of $676.9 million last year.

Healthcare establishments have accounted for the most COVID-19-related OSHA complaints among essential industries including retail, construction and warehousing, according to data from the agency.

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