UPDATE: Aug. 21, 2020: Riverside Community Hospital said its top priority since day one has been protecting its workers by keeping them safe and employed so they can best care for patients. "Any suggestion otherwise ignores the extensive work, planning and training we have done to ensure the delivery of high-quality care during this pandemic," the hospital said in a statement.
- HCA and its hospital in Riverside, California, are facing a lawsuit that alleges they "recklessly facilitated the spread of COVID-19, putting patients, workers and the surrounding community at a heightened risk of infection," according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by Service Employees International Union–United Healthcare Workers West.
- The suit filed in California Superior Court alleges HCA and Riverside Community Hospital forced employees to work without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and also forced employees displaying COVID-19 symptoms to work. It also alleges a lack of adequate contract tracing that facilitated the disease’s spread from the hospital into the community.
- HCA and RCH did not respond to requests for comment by time of publication. However, RCH did defend its practices in a statement to Becker's Hospital Review and slammed the lawsuit as a publicity stunt by the union.
Despite being the largest for-profit hospital chain in the country, HCA failed to follow basic public health recommendations, such as keeping sick workers home, according to the suit, which also alleges public nuisance, unfair and unlawful business practices, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The plaintiffs, three Riverside Community Hospital employees, contracted or suffered symptoms of the disease and said they weren’t notified of possible exposures, the suit says. Certain employees, such as environmental service workers, were also allegedly denied N95 masks after being ordered to clean COVID-19 patients rooms at RCH.
One plaintiff was allegedly pressured into finishing a shift despite explaining and demonstrating persistent COVID-19 symptoms to the RCH Employee Health Department and his own supervisor. He tested positive after finishing the shift and has been on medical leave since, the lawsuit said.
Gladys Reyes, another plaintiff and a lab assistant and phlebotomist at the hospital, reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 on June 24 and was instructed to work a shift July 21 despite still suffering from symptoms. The hospital allegedly told her she did not need to take a test before returning to work. She did anyway, and it was positive.
Other allegations include pressuring employees to not take reasonable and necessary precautions when sanitizing medical tools and surfaces.
Two of the plaintiffs, working as lab assistant and phlebotomists, said drawing blood from COVID-19 patients involved heightened precautions around PPE, handwashing and surface sanitizing that reduced the number of patients they could see. Hospital supervisors allegedly said the slow down was unacceptable and they didn’t need to sanitize all the equipment if they could not meet the prior quota of six blood draws per hour.
The lawsuit follows a 10-day strike earlier this summer led by RCH nurses citing a breakdown in discussions over safety and staffing mid-contract negotiations. It also comes as Congress weighs a potential fifth round of COVID-19 relief legislation, with Republicans stumping for broad liability protections for businesses against suits of this nature.