- Healthcare workers at five HCA hospitals in Las Vegas dropped off almost 500 complaint forms to state hospital regulators late last week alleging untenable working conditions. The union's so-called Acceptance Despite Objection forms cite instances when staff objected to unsafe or potentially unsafe patient care assignments, most stemming from the past three months over COVID-19-related issues such as a lack of personal protective equipment and staffing ratios.
- A spokesperson with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Nevada Local 1107, which represents those workers, said staff are particularly concerned about a practice that allows them to come back to work before fully recovering from COVID-19 after testing positive.
- An HCA spokesperson said the system is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance regarding PPE and healthcare worker testing. The spokesperson also said the system has adequate PPE supplies and will continue sourcing for alternative vendors.
In recent months, PPE and staffing concerns inside hospitals amid the coronavirus pandemic have led unionized healthcare workers to stage protests and even go on strike as they face harrowing conditions caring for COVID-19 patients.
Healthcare workers with SEIU Nevada Local 1107, who have been bargaining for a new contract since March, are taking a different approach.
Employees at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, Sunrise Children's Hospital, MountainView Hospital and Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center submitted individual claims of unsafe assignments to state regulators who oversee the licensing of healthcare facilities.
"We all have done our job and I want to stress we have not stopped working," Erika Watanabe, a certified surgical technician and union steward at one of the HCA facilities, said.
Watanabe said what the union is hoping to achieve by submitting the complaints is to simply have them looked into by regulators. Many of the unsafe assignments she said involved changing PPE reuse practices, though the exact content of individual claims is protected under HIPAA, a union spokesperson said.
Widespread PPE shortages earlier this year led the CDC to roll back regulations on when N95 masks — long the industry standard in dealing with novel respiratory diseases — must be used.
The agency also offered guidance on their re-use later into the pandemic, a method a recent JAMA study suggested could be effective when using particular N95 masks and sanitation processes.
But CDC's rationing guidelines for healthcare facilities "shouldn't be the ceiling, they should be the floor," Watanabe said.
A spokesperson from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public and Behavioral Health said the agency will investigate the claims based on the severity of the allegations and the likelihood of harm to recipients of care.
If noncompliance is cited, there are a range of sanctions available, starting with directed plans of correction, monetary fines and eventual revocation of a license, though the severity and scope of the claims have yet to be evaluated by the department. It is unclear when it will complete its investigation.
Earlier this summer, nurses at HCA's Riverside Community Hospital in California went on a 10-day strike citing staffing and safety concerns exacerbated by the pandemic.
Healthcare workers represented by SEIU at HCA facilities in California, Texas, Kansas and Nevada also held protests July 29 asking the system to "adequately invest in patient care and staffing in light of recent federal bailouts it has received during the COVID-19 pandemic," according to an SEIU release.