Ohio State nurses file OSHA complaint over PPE

The Ohio State University Nurses Organization has filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus has not provided adequate protection for workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union, which represents more than 4,000 registered nurses, filed the complaint April 28.

The complaint alleges the medical center has not provided a sufficient supply of N95 masks to each front-line healthcare worker caring for a suspected or positive COVID-19 patient. Other complaints cited by the union include removal of N95 masks from the James Comprehensive Cancer Hospital outpatient clinics, lack of eye protection and inadequate fit testing for workers using respirators.

"There have been at least 85 healthcare workers with confirmed COVID-19 infections across the medical center," the union stated. "Many have suffered serious illnesses and lost work time and may have also exposed or infected their families."

In a statement, Andrew Thomas, MD, chief clinical officer of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said the medical center can't respond to the complaint, since it hasn't officially received it, but highly values its relationship with the union. "In fact, members of our leadership team meet daily with union representatives to listen and address any concerns," he said.

Dr. Thomas also pointed to steps the medical center has taken to keep its 30,000 employees and its patients safe, including following the evolving CDC guidance on the appropriate isolation of COVID-19 patients and the requirements for personal protective equipment for workers. He said the medical center also continues to work to purchase PPE and maximize usage of existing equipment; postponed elective procedures to conserve PPE; partnered with Battelle to use an FDA-approved process to sterilize N95 masks; and developed in-house testing methods to decrease the turnaround time for COVID-19 lab tests, among other efforts.

The Ohio State University Nurses Organization is not the first union to file a complaint with OSHA. On March 27, National Nurses United said it had filed more than 125 complaints with OSHA offices in 16 states accusing individual hospitals of not providing safe workplaces.

Earlier this month, an OSHA spokesperson told Becker's Hospital Review the U.S. Labor Department agency "considers all whistleblower complaints to be serious and addresses them accordingly."  

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