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After 15 worker deaths, state to start inspecting hospitals to ensure proper PPE

SJ Objio/Unsplash

Hospitals will be inspected by state officials in the coming weeks to ensure they’re providing staff with sufficient personal protective equipment, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced last week.

This comes after the state’s received reports of at least 15 hospital workers whose deaths were potentially linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The “state emphasis program” will “increase MIOSHA’s presence in hospitals to enforce the requirement to provide appropriate PPE to protect hospital staff and ensure they can continue to care for those most in need,” the agency said in a public statement. 

‘If the inspections determine deficiencies in the employer’s COVID-19 preparedness and response plans including not providing appropriate PPE, citations and penalties will be issued.”

There’ve been numerous complaints from health workers across Michigan, including one from the Michigan Nurses Association filed against Michigan Medicine in April, and another against Mercy Health Partners – Hackley Hospital in March. 

The complaint against Hackley claims administrators asked emergency room nurses to take off “N95 respirators that had been donated directly to the nurses for their protection and to wear simple surgical masks which provided less respiratory protection for staff.” According to the complaint, Hackley officials asked nurses to “turn over a list of staff wearing the N95 respirators in the emergency department” and implemented a new policy barring nurses from wearing any of their own personal or donated PPE,  “even if it met CDC standards or provided greater protection to nurses than the PPE that the employer is able or willing to provide.”  

The MNA also claimed Michigan Medicine:

“...has failed to furnish to each of their employees equipment ... free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to their employees. This is demonstrated by the fact that on April 13, 2020, the employer reported that 274 employees (over 20% of those tested) have tested positive for COVID-19 with at least 3 employees now inpatient.”

The same complaint also alleges that Michigan Medicine administrators weren’t providing respirators to some staff who wanted to wear them voluntarily, on the basis that the masks weren’t fit tested. The masks don’t have to be fitted to the employees if they’re wearing them voluntarily, the MNA attorney claims in the complaint, yet administrators also weren’t allowing nurses to wear their own respirators. 

“These violations have impacted approximately 6200 nurses in addition to other healthcare professionals employed by the employer,” the complaint states. 

"The complaint referenced by the Michigan Nurses Association was closed by MIOSHA with no violations found," a Michigan Medicine spokesperson said in an emailed statement Sunday. "Employee safety remains our top priority throughout this pandemic. We have tremendous respect and appreciation for all of our frontline staff who are caring for patients with COVID-19."

Mercy Health Partners did not respond to request for comment.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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