Labor & Employment Law Daily Healthcare workers allege HCA Healthcare hospital spread COVID-19 through reckless actions
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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Healthcare workers allege HCA Healthcare hospital spread COVID-19 through reckless actions

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The complaint alleges that employees were forced to work without adequate PPE and that sick employees were forced to work despite being symptomatic and highly contagious.

SEIU-United Health Workers West, three Riverside Community Hospital (RCH) workers who contracted COVID-19, and the daughter of an employee who got sick with the coronavirus and then died, have filed a lawsuit alleging that major national hospital chain HCA Healthcare 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.

The five-count complaint raises claims of public nuisance, negligence, unfair and unlawful business practices, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and declaratory judgment. According to the union, this is a “first-in-the-nation” lawsuit.

Unnecessarily dangerous work environment. Through various actions and omissions, the hospital and its parent company and their CEOs “have created an unnecessarily dangerous work environment for RCH employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn has created dangerous conditions for patients, visitors, the community, and those who live in the same household as HCA healthcare workers,” the plaintiffs allege.

According to the complaint, these purported actions include:

  • Forcing employees to work without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gowns, hairnets, gloves, and facial shields;
  • Forcing sick employees to work despite being symptomatic and highly contagious; and
  • Pressuring employees not to take reasonable and necessary precautions against exposure to COVID-19—such as frequent or effective sanitization of commonly used medical tools and commonly touched surfaces—if such precautions would harm efficiency and/or productivity.

Complaints about conditions ignored. The complaint alleges that the hospitals ignored workers’ repeated complaints to supervisors about the lack of adequate PPE, inadequate contact tracing for workers who had exposure to the coronavirus or even those who tested positive, pressure put on workers to ignore recommended workplace safety precautions, and hospital management’s failure to promptly notify workers who were exposed to the coronavirus.

Infections contracted at work. Since mid-May 2020, numerous workers at RCH, including three of the plaintiffs, as well as many of their family members, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have exhibited symptoms consistent with the disease, according to the complaint. Another employee, the mother of one of the plaintiffs, purportedly died of COVID-19 after contracting the disease while working at RCH.

Forced to work while sick. One of the plaintiffs, a Patient Safety Observer, was allegedly forced to work a shift at RCH while “clearly exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.” Another plaintiff “was pressured into working by hospital management despite explaining and demonstrating his persistent symptoms to the RCH Employee Health Department and his own supervisor,” the complaint states. He tested positive for COVID-19 “hours after finishing this shift and has been on medical leave ever since,” according to the complaint. “Defendants’ decision to force [the plaintiff] to work, while clearly exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, put countless employees, patients, visitors, and the community at unnecessary risk,” the plaintiffs contend.

“All of us as healthcare workers know we face higher risks in a hospital environment where we work in close proximity to patients suffering from COVID-19, but this hospital and its parent company didn’t follow CDC guidelines and didn’t seem to care about our safety or the safety of our patients,” said a plaintiff who works as a lab assistant and phlebotomist at RCH and tested positive for the coronavirus in June. “I was told I didn’t need a second COVID-19 test before returning to work in July even though I still had symptoms. I took one anyway and tested positive.”

Relief sought. The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that the defendants have committed a public nuisance and unfair business practices. They are also seeking compensatory damages, restitution of all monies due to the plaintiffs, disgorged profits from the unfair and unlawful business practices of the defendants, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

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