The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited three skilled nursing facilities in Ohio for violating respiratory infection standards in a way that failed to protect employees from COVID-19.
The Pebble Creek Healthcare Center in Akron, along with Salem West Healthcare Center and Salem North Healthcare Center in Salem — all part of the Communicare Family of Companies — were inspected and cited by OSHA for “a serious violation of two respiratory protection standards: failing to develop a comprehensive written respiratory protection program and failing to provide medical evaluations to determine employees’ ability to use a respirator in the workplace.”
The citations are the first issued for safety related to COVID-19, according to an OSHA spokesperson cited by a Reuters report.
The agency also issued a Hazard Alert Letter on the company allowing N95 respirator use for up to seven days and not holding initial fit testing for the masks.
OSHA proposed $40,482 in penalties, or $13,494 per facility, according to the July 21 release.
“OSHA’s investigation found that, although the company was making efforts to protect its employees from the coronavirus, it had not fully implemented an appropriate respiratory protection program,” said OSHA Cleveland Area Office Director Howard Eberts.
According to letters sent to the Salem West and Salem North facilities by OSHA, “employees continued to use N-95 filtering facepiece respirators for up to seven days, or until soiled or damaged.”
“The practice of an extremely long reuse of this type of respirator carries a significant risk of contact transmission of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from touching the surface of the contaminated respirator,” the letters read.
Communciare said in a statement sent to SNN on July 23 that the decision by OSHA “was made in a vacuum.”
“Our centers were not required to [have] a respiratory protection program in place, or conduct medical examinations until they started using N95 masks, which did not happen until were in the middle of a pandemic emergency,” the Cincinnati-based operator said in the statement.
Communicare has been proactive in trying to prevent worker and resident exposure to COVID-19, the company said in its statement, pointing to its early restriction of visitation on March 10 — and the fact that it spent more than $4 million purchasing additional personal protective equipment to supplement facilities’ normal supply chains.
That stock included more than 47,000 N95 masks, 1 million surgical masks, 230,000 isolation gowns and 38,000 face shields, according to Communicare.
“We monitored the changing regulations and made reasonable efforts to comply, but were unable to procure fit tests until very recently and we were dedicating all of our efforts to fight the onset of COVID-19 in our nursing homes,” the statement said. “These issues have all been abated and we have requested an informal conference with OSHA so that we can resolve this matter.”