Saying their coworkers are becoming ill and dying from COVID-19 due to insufficient protective equipment at the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, HCA Healthcare, six frontline workers are asking its stockholders to intercede.
In a letter sent to several dozen of HCA’s largest investors, the workers said the company’s failure to protect its employees may be “systemically putting lives at risk.” Six months into the pandemic, “HCA is still not consistently providing life-saving PPE, and in some cases is instead forcing caregivers to utilize less reliable masks or to risk cross contamination by re-using single use PPE for multiple shifts,” the letter says.
In one case, according to the letter, an environmental services worker’s first assignment was to clean the emergency department, without gloves or mask or a hat or any instruction on how she was supposed to do the job.
“We are astonished at this. We can tell you directly that we do not have enough N95 masks and other personal protective equipment,” they wrote.
The letter asks investors to make inquiries of the corporation to check key pandemic-related statistics, including how many of its employees have tested positive for coronavirus, how many have died because of it, as well as details on the company’s prevention and control plan, how it trains its employees and what provisions it has for supplying protective equipment. Investors should also seek an assessment of HCA’s current supplies and expenditures, the letter said.
The four-page letter names a Kansas City HCA Research Medical Center nurse who died in April, days before her retirement, because she treated COVID-19 patients without adequate PPE. It lists three other workers — a housekeeper and a lab assistant and an RN at Sunrise Medical Center in Nevada — who also succumbed to the virus.
Many other HCA workers have tested positive, the letter said.
HCA spokesperson Harlow Sumerford told MedPage Today in an email that the letter was signed by six employees out of the company’s 280,000. Sumerford said “we suspect this letter was orchestrated by the SEIU [Service Employees International Union] as part of their continued effort to attack hospitals across the country.” Some HCA Healthcare-affiliated hospitals are in active negotiation, including the hospitals where the six people who signed the letter now work, Sumerford wrote.
“No outside group takes the health and safety of our workers more seriously than we do,” Sumerford said, adding that “any suggestion otherwise ignores the extensive work, planning and training we have done to ensure the delivery of high quality care during this pandemic.” Sumerford added that each of workers who signed the letter work at hospitals that “are currently engaged in the collective bargaining process” with SEIU.
A spokesman for SEIU confirmed that the union helped write the letter. But he said it was not signed by SEIU — and SEIU was not mentioned — because some of the complaints and information in it came from HCA workers not represented currently by SEIU.
The information requested in the letter is important not just for the well-being of healthcare workers employed by HCA who may be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, but also for shareholders because it’s related to the health of their investments.
One of the letter’s signers, Xochitl Gonzalez, a certified nurse assistant and self-described frontline worker at Los Robles Regional Medical Center, a 382-bed hospital in Thousand Oaks, California, talked with MedPage Today about her personal experience.
While she has not been assigned to work on the Los Robles’ COVID floor, Gonzalez said, all too frequently she is asked to care for patients sent up from the emergency department whose COVID status is unclear, yet she has only been given surgical masks, not N95s.
She said she felt she had to buy equipment on her own, and now wears a face shield she bought herself.
“We had an incident on our floor that was a close call,” when a COVID patient was sent to the wrong place, she said. “We feel we should have proper PPE, not just certain departments.”
“My coworkers in environmental services have been pretty much begging for proper PPE. They’re frontline workers too and are exposed to those areas.”
The workers’ letter is the latest of numerous labor actions or protests against HCA hospitals nationally accusing the company of inadequately protecting its workers and patients from infectious diseases, especially COVID-19.
At an HCA facility in Bradenton, Florida, RNs protested in July they were unnecessarily exposed to the coronavirus. In August, the National Nurses United filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that workers at numerous HCA hospitals were ordered to work after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.
The letter to HCA investors noted that the company is not suffering financially, continuing to report profits while curtailing expenses: $1.75 billion in Q2 2020, versus $2.2 billion during the same period in 2019.
Last Updated November 05, 2020