UPDATE: Aug. 27, 2020: An HCA spokesperson said employees who are symptomatic for COVID-19 are referred to its internal health department for testing. If positive, they must be symptom-free for 10 consecutive days before returning to work and must attest to no symptoms. The spokesperson said due to national shortages, testing supplies are reserved for employees and acute patients who are symptomatic.
- The country's largest nurses union filed a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration on Monday, alleging workplace safety hazards at 17 HCA hospitals it wants the agency to inspect. According to National Nurses United, fines for "willful violations" causing workplace safety hazards could amount to $134,937 per facility, or $2.3 million if applied to all named hospitals.
- NNU said the massive hospital chain maintains uniform practices across its system that include failing to notify workers of COVID-19 exposures and pressuring employees who may be COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic to continue working. The confidential complaint cites alleged incidents at HCA hospitals in Florida, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina and Texas.
- HCA did not respond to requests for comment on its COVID-19 testing policy for employees across hospitals.
Healthcare workers have been sounding the alarm on unsafe working conditions throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic through protests and other workplace actions. More recently though, the unions representing them are turning those claims over to state and federal agencies.
Service Employees International Union–United Healthcare Workers West filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court on Friday alleging HCA and its hospital in Riverside, California, "recklessly facilitated the spread of COVID-19, putting patients, workers and the surrounding community at a heightened risk of infection."
Earlier this month, healthcare workers at five HCA hospitals in Las Vegas dropped off almost 500 complaint forms to state hospital regulators alleging unsafe or potentially unsafe patient care assignments.
At the heart of those complaints, and Monday's, is a growing focus on contract tracing — or a lack thereof — in healthcare facilities that has led to the novel coronavirus spreading through hospitals and into communities, according to the union.
Monday's complaint to OSHA includes one claim of an HCA nurse at Osceola Regional Medical Center in Florida being denied a COVID-19 test after asking her employer, according to a nurse's union release. The nurse allegedly sought a test elsewhere and it returned positive.
The union alleges HCA allows employees who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work after a 14-day quarantine if they are asymptomatic. The HCA nurse in the complaint was asked back to work after 14 days, though she sought another test separately, which was again positive, according to the union.
Another instance involved several registered nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C., who allegedly performed aerosolizing procedures without N95 respirator masks on a patient with respiratory failure. Only afterward was the patient tested and confirmed positive for COVID-19, the union said.
"We are calling on OSHA to hold HCA accountable, with real penalties, for an alarming pattern of unsafe working conditions that put the health and safety of nurses, other health care workers, and patients at risk in the face of this dangerous, and surging pandemic," a union spokesperson said in an email.
Detailed information on OSHA complaints are available once investigations close. Healthcare establishments have accounted for the most COVID-19-related complaints among essential industries including retail, construction and warehousing, according to data from the agency.