Union sues HCA California hospital, accused of facilitating spread of COVID-19

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A union representing 1,190 workers at Riverside (Calif.) Community Hospital has sued the facility, alleging it recklessly facilitated COVID-19 spread, increasing the likelihood of patients, employees, visitors and community would be infected.

Service Employees International Union–United Healthcare Workers West filed the lawsuit Aug. 20 in the Superior Court of California in Riverside County. The suit also named the hospital's parent company, Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare.

The plaintiffs include three hospital workers who contracted COVID-19 and the daughter of a hospital employee who died from COVID-19.  

"All of us as healthcare workers know we face higher risks in a hospital environment where we work in close proximity to patients suffering from COVID-19, but this hospital and its parent company didn't follow CDC guidelines and didn't seem to care about our safety or the safety of our patients," one of the plaintiffs, Gladys Reyes, who works as a lab assistant and phlebotomist at the hospital, said in a news release. "I was told I didn't need a second COVID-19 test before returning to work in July even though I still had symptoms. I took one anyway and tested positive."

The lawsuit alleges that the hospital and HCA's policies and practices "created or substantially assisted in the creation of an actionable public nuisance" under state law, which "caused substantial, life-threatening harms to the health and safety" of patients, visitors and the community. 

Allegations by the union include requiring employees to work without optimal personal protective equipment; forcing sick employees to work despite having symptoms consistent with the virus; and pressuring workers to not take "reasonable and necessary precautions" against COVID-19 exposure. 

In response to the lawsuit, Riverside Community Hospital sent a statement to Becker's Hospital Review pointing to its safety efforts to protect workers.

"Since day one, our top priority has been to protect them — to keep them safe and keep them employed — so they can best care for our patients," the hospital said. "Any suggestion otherwise ignores the extensive work, planning and training we have done to ensure the delivery of high-quality care during this pandemic.

"Our safety efforts have included testing of colleagues, universal masking and other safeguards, in line with guidance from the CDC. We're proud of our response and the significant resources we've deployed to help keep our colleagues safe."

The lawsuit is "an attempt for the union to gain publicity," the hospital stated, and it will vigorously defend itself against it. 


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