Two Tenet South Florida Hospitals Named In Health and Safety Complaints By Healthcare Workers

June 17, 2020

Media Contact: Ed Gilhuly | 305-807-6906 | egilhuly@leftcom.com

FLHazard_fa.jpgWEST PALM BEACH---Members of the state’s largest healthcare union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, have filed regulatory complaints regarding health and safety policies related to COVID-19 at two South Florida Tenet Healthcare Corporation hospitals. Healthcare workers at these hospitals have raised concerns about their exposure to infectious diseases at work in an effort to improve protections for workers and patients.

The complaints were filed with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and The Joint Commission (TJC) hospital accreditation agency about Tenet’s North Shore Medical Center in Miami and St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. Tenet is one of the nation’s largest healthcare companies, with about 550 hospitals and outpatient centers across the country, and a reported $18.5 billion in revenue during 2019. The company operates dozens of facilities in Florida.

At Miami’s North Shore Medical Center, caregivers reported being assigned both Covid-positive and Covid-negative patients at once while having to wear the same mask, gown and other personal protective equipment (PPE), without taking decontamination measures, increasing the likelihood of cross-contamination or infection.

The regulatory complaints about North Shore also highlight that caregivers were required to wear the same N-95 protective mask – which is designed for single-use and disposal -- for as long as a week, or until it became visibly soiled or damaged.

Caregivers with 1199SEIU are concerned about these protocols and the number of workers exposed to the highly-contagious Covid-19 coronavirus. Currently, 10 caregivers in 1199SEIU’s bargaining unit at North Shore are out sick because of the virus, one of whom is pregnant, according to 1199SEIU union members.

“These practices increase caregivers’ exposure to Covid-19 and other serious infections, which in turn increases the likelihood of exposure for their patients, families, and communities,” said Jude Derisme, a vice president with 1199SEIU. “Tenet Healthcare is a very large and profitable corporation and we are calling on these hospitals to use their resources to protect and improve the safety of patients and staff.”

The OSHA, AHCA and TJC filings about St. Mary’s Medical Center focus on potentially contaminated air being vented into the hospital’s courtyard. The air comes from a “negative pressure” isolation unit inside the hospital designed for patients with respiratory infections or other conditions creating airborne pathogens, such as Covid-19.

The courtyard pathway, which runs immediately past the exhaust vent, is used by employees and contractors to walk from one area of the building to another, according to officials filing the complaints.

“These vents blow air from a COVID-19 isolation unit into an occupied space,” Derisme said. “A negative pressure unit is designed to minimize the spread of airborne disease, but venting that air where people walk or congregate defeats this purpose.”

When healthcare workers realized where the air was being vented, they asked hospital management to fix the problem and to improve protections for patients, staff and visitors by re-routing the ducts. In response, the hospital rerouted one vent (that previously vented isolation unit air directly above an entrance to the emergency room), but did not make engineering improvements to the courtyard vents. Instead, the hospital placed a sign near the courtyard exhaust vents with this warning: “Restricted Area: Bio-Hazard Exhaust Present,” although the area is openly accessible to staff and the vents are less than two feet from the courtyard sidewalk.

Following their efforts to address these issues with the hospitals directly, workers are now bringing their concerns to OSHA, AHCA and TJC.

“Our organization always first tries to find a solution with the facilities, and we don’t file these regulatory reports lightly,” Derisme said. “But our top commitment is to protect our patients, caregivers and public health.”

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1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest healthcare union in the country representing more than 450,000 nurses and healthcare workers nationwide, including more than 24,000 in Florida. Our nurses, certified nursing assistants and other healthcare workers care for Florida families in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities throughout the state.