Bad enough that more than 100,000 senior citizens in nursing homes have died so far from the Coronavirus, now, add to that toll tens of thousands of nursing home employees who were also infected and died. According to the New York Times, more than 163,000 people in nursing homes (residents and staff combined) have been killed from Coronavirus to date, representing 34% of all US deaths and 5% of all cases. The shocking failure of skilled nursing facilities to protect its residents and staff clearly indicates incompetence, greed, and negligence. When the dust settles, nursing home chain operators must be held accountable for the unimaginable harm they have caused.
Now comes the big question: who is supposed to oversee dangerous conditions at nursing homes? That responsibility is the purview of a federal agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which monitors worker safety in long-term care facilities. The US Department of Labor’s workforce is tasked with controlling 40,000 worksites and the 2.8 million workers employed in one way or another by nursing homes and residential care facilities.
What are some of the reasons why Nursing Home Employee Safety is being compromised?
What happened when the Coronavirus hit? Between February 2020 and August 2020, OSHA penalized only six facilities, out of the thousands with Coronavirus cases, in the entire country! In the remaining four months of 2020, the agency did only slightly better, citing 200 facilities. The average penalty was only $13,000. Thousands needlessly died, yet OSHA during the Trump Administration somehow couldn’t find reasons to intervene on behalf of vulnerable staff and patients.
A CNN investigation revealed a trail of incompetence and negligence. By the end of 2020, workers at 1,000 facilities had contacted OSHA by phone or email, but the vast majority were closed by operators who denied the claims or promised to address the issues. In one tragic case, Victor Sison, a nurse at Complete Care at Hamilton Plaza in Passaic, New Jersey, posted a photo of himself with the headline: “LORD HELP ALL MY FELLOW FRONTLINERS.” Sison died in April 2020 of COVID-19; the facility where he worked did not even report his death to OSHA, and OSHA didn’t launch an investigation until CNN contacted the agency in July.
Why was OSHA so slow to act, and why is the agency still not doing enough to enforce its own regulations? According to Marissa Baker, an assistant professor of occupational health at the University of Washington, the issues are that OSHA is understaffed and that the agency does not have enforceable standards related to COVID-19.
Enough is enough. We now have a new administration in Washington, and let’s hope that common sense comes back into fashion – fund and staff OSHA with employees willing to take on Unsafe Employers. People shouldn’t die because they go to work every day to earn a living. OSHA needs to do so much more.
We can’t bring back the dead, but we can enforce the regulations already on the books and quickly work to tighten others. When the history of the Coronavirus is eventually written, OSHA will, unfortunately, be implicated in the needless suffering and deaths of thousands, a tragic consequence of a failed administration.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse and wrongful death cases in California. If you or a loved one is in need of legal assistance please contact Wendy York today.