Lawsuit claims Riverside hospital forced those with COVID-19 symptoms to workby Jeffrey Nadrich Managing Partner, Nadrich & Cohen, LLP
A lawsuit now in federal court claims employees at Riverside Community Hospital were forced to work despite having symptoms of COVID-19.
The lawsuit was filed by Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West, three healthcare workers who contracted and suffered symptoms of COVID-19 and one woman whose mother, an employee at the hospital, contracted and died from COVID-19.
The lawsuit names HCA Healthcare, HCA’s CEO, Riverside Healthcare System L.P. d/b/a Riverside Community Hospital the hospital’s CEO as defendants.
“Defendants, through knowing and reckless acts and omissions, have failed to take reasonable and necessary precautions to protect their employees, patients, visitors, and the community from the harmful effects of COVID-19, thereby facilitating the spread of the virus and putting the surrounding community at an unnecessarily heightened risk of infection,” the complaint argues.
The complaint notes that hospitals are high risk environments for contracting COVID-19 since employees work close to patients with the disease.
“While all health care workers understand that some degree of risk is inherent in their work, Defendants, through various actions and omissions, have created an unnecessarily dangerous work environment for RCH employees during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the complaint claims.
The complaint notes specific actions which the defendants allegedly took which created an unsafe work environment, including:
• Telling employees with COVID-19 symptoms to keep working
• Failing to provide employees with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, hairnets, gowns, facial shields and gloves
• Failing to provide PPE to Environmental Services workers who are tasked with cleaning the beds and rooms of COVID-19 patients
• Pressuring employees to ignore safety precautions like sanitizing and cleaning procedures “if such precautions would harm efficiency and/or productivity,” for “the sake of meeting artificial job-related ‘quotas’”
• Failing to have symptomatic employees self-quarantine for 14 days
• Failing to conduct basic contact tracing or notifying co-workers when employees tested positive for COVID-19
One of the plaintiffs, according to the complaint, was forced to work a shift at the hospital “while clearly exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.” The complaint states the man tested positive for COVID-19 on May 22.
The complaint states the man was instructed to return to work at the hospital on June 29, despite still experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The man “was pressured” into working by management at the hospital despite demonstrating his symptoms to the employee health department and his supervisor, according to the complaint. The complaint states the man was told he had to work unless he tested positive for COVID-19 again. This decision “put countless employees, patients, visitors, and the community at unnecessary risk,” according to the complaint. The complaint states the man received a second positive test result on June 29, after he had worked a shift at work.
The complaint states the man’s wife also tested positive for COVID-19 and started experiencing symptoms around three days after the man did.
The hospital employee who contracted COVID-19 and died from it worked at the hospital as a part-time lab assistant/phlebotomist and “rarely left her house except to go to work” because of the pandemic, according to the complaint, which claims she was exposed to COVID-19 during a work shift on approximately May 9.
The complaint claims she tested positive for COVID-19 thereafter, started suffering severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, was placed on a ventilator for two weeks and died on June 8.
Another plaintiff, the complaint claims, worked at the hospital as a lab assistant/phlebotomist, was exposed to COVID-19 while working at the hospital in late June or early July, began experiencing symptoms on July 2 or 3, was tested on July 6 and received a positive result on July 13. The plaintiff lives with her boyfriend, who began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms immediately after the plaintiff did, and was still sick as of August 10, according to the complaint. The complaint claims this woman was still feeling symptoms of COVID-19 on July 29, 2020, yet was instructed to return to work on July 18, 2020. She was informed she need not take a second COVID-19 test before working again, according to the complaint.
Another plaintiff, according to the complaint, drew blood from patients in the hospital’s “COVID floors,” testing positive for COVID-19 on June 24. Her son, according to the complaint, lost his job because he had to stay home to take care of her. The complaint claims this woman was instructed to return to work on July 21 despite still suffering COVID-19 symptoms, and that she, too, was instructed she didn’t have to take another COVID-19 test before working again.
The complaint claims that the defendants “have justified their actions as detailed throughout this Complaint by claiming that they have adhered to applicable CDC guidelines.” The complaint notes that a hospital manager said the hospital was meeting its obligations to the CDC in response to a complaint that only doctors and nurses were receiving adequate PPE. The complaint notes that the CDC recommends that all staff in healthcare facilities should use PPE, not just doctors and nurses.
“In short, [the defendants] fell far short of the CDC recommendations,” the complaint states.
The complaint states that an Environmental Services worker was denied an N95 mask after being instructed to clean a COVID-19 patient’s room, and that other Environmental Services workers have been “verbally abused” by hospital supervisors when they have asked for masks and face shields. The complaint states these workers have also seen requests for gowns and hairnets denied.
One of the plaintiffs had to purchase her own PPE, according to the complaint, and another plaintiff requested an N95 or equivalent mask only to see the request denied.
The complaint claims workers in the hospital’s pharmacy department were denied masks “and told to use disposable boot covers as masks.”
The complaint argues that the defendants failed to “promptly inform” the plaintiffs of possible exposure to COVID-19, “leading these individuals to unknowingly expose their family and members of the community to the disease.”
The complaint claims that the defendants waited as long as a week after learning of COVID-19 exposures before telling co-workers about the exposures.
The complaint claims hospital managers pressured two of the plaintiffs to ignore common sense safety precautions such as sanitizing equipment used to draw blood.
The complaint claims that safety precautions regarding the blood drawing process decreases the number of patients they can draw blood from from six patients per hour to two patients per hour. The complaint claims hospital supervisors told two of the plaintiffs that “this decrease in efficiency was unacceptable, and that they need not sanitize all of their equipment if they could not meet the prior quota of six blood draws per hour.”
These precautions, according to the complaint, included:
• Washing hands
• Cleaning PPE
• Sanitizing equipment
The complaint claims the employee who died “was often instructed to draw blood from COVID and non-COVID patients in quick succession, without an opportunity to take recommended safety precautions between treatments.”
The complaint claims the defendants, at first, only provided PPE to physicians and nurses, and that after workers complained they started providing PPE to most employees, “but required that the equipment be used for multiple days.”
The complaint seeks to recover damages based on multiple causes of action, including public nuisance, unfair and unlawful business practices, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and declaratory judgment.
About the author
Jeffrey Nadrich is the managing partner of Nadrich & Cohen, LLP, a California personal injury law firm which represents COVID-19 workplace death clients.
Created on Nov 1st 2020 14:57. Viewed 158 times.