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Hospital or Hotel, OSHA Standard on Infectious Materials Applies

June 11, 2015

Hospitals have different protocols—or none at all—when it comes to discharging patients to hotels. But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's bloodborne pathogens standard applies to all.

The Wyndham Beacon Hill hotel uses its proximity to Massachusetts General Hospital as a marketing tool. The hotel website includes a hospitals page featuring a blonde model in a white coat with a stethoscope around her neck. The hotel offers a link to each of the city's hospitals, discounted rates for patient families, and access to a shuttle bus.  

The Wyndham isn't alone. Often, patients have to travel long distances to places like Boston for specialized care. So hotels have grown up around large hospitals to offer shelter to caregivers. And sometimes patients, too sick to travel home or waiting for follow-up care, need a night or two of lodging as well.

But hospitals have different protocols—or none at all—when it comes to discharging patients to hotels. And hotels have different capacities for hosting them.

But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's bloodborne pathogens standard applies to all.

The workers at the Wyndham have complained to regulators that they were not trained to handle biohazards that they regularly find in guest rooms. They claim management doesn't supply them with the protective gear they need to safely handle and properly clean the bloody linens, vomit, and diarrhea of guests just discharged from a hospital.

Now OSHA is investigating.

All workers exposed to blood or body fluids, not only healthcare workers, are required to use universal precautions. Boston workers at some hotels say they are trained and equipped, says Tiffany Ten Eyck, a spokesperson for Unite Here Local 26, which is trying to unionize the hotel workers. That may not be the case at all the city's hotels, she said.

"We're still hearing from workers. It is clear there is a problem," she says.

A Massachusetts General spokesperson said the hospital has no formal affiliation with the hotel and has not received any complaints. Wyndham Hotels has denied the workers' charges, but did not respond to my request for comment.

Rather than send patients and families to hotels that may be ill-prepared or inappropriate for them, two hospitals have found another solution: They run their own.

A Different Post-Discharge Quality Strategy

In 2012, the University of Washington Hospitals and Clinics bought a nearby Best Western hotel, which is open to patients and other guests.

The Patient and Family Housing facility at the University of Utah Health System looks like a motel because it once was one. Located among a cluster of chain hotels near the Salt Lake City International Airport, it houses only hospital patients and their families.  

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