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RNs Call Out Hospital's 'Potentially Life-Threatening Problems'

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   April 23, 2021

Nurses challenge Chicago hospital's alleged safety and employment law violations. 

Registered nurses at Community First Medical Center in Chicago were planning an in-person picket, along with a virtual press conference today to alert the public to what they say is a variety of state and federal violations that jeopardize patient safety.

"At least 60 of our nurses have become ill, and three have died since the start of the pandemic as we have been working without appropriate personal protective equipment and struggling to make do with broken equipment, and without adequate supplies," Kathy Haff, RN, said in a press release from National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU).

"Hospital management's refusal to address the ongoing and potentially life-threatening problems that persist throughout the hospital is putting our patients and our staff at risk," Haff said. "As we continue to mourn the loss of our coworkers who died in service to our community, we are determined to fight for our patients."

The picket was scheduled for early today at Community First Medical Center, followed by a virtual press conference at 12:30 p.m. CDT, according to the release. The press conference can be viewed on the National Nurses United Facebook page through this link.

Nurses have documented what they believe to be numerous safety violations and employment law violations at the hospital and are calling for investigations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Labor, and the Illinois attorney general’s office.

Some of the violations they allege include:

Broken door in a negative pressure room: Negative pressure rooms isolate patients with infectious disease such as COVID-19 by using a pressure differential to keep air in the patient room from escaping into common areas. If a door can’t be closed, contaminated air can travel to other areas and expose patients and staff to infectious agents.

Failure to maintain required temperature in cardiac catheterization lab. Due to a broken HVAC system, temperatures in the catheterization lab have been documented as high as 80 degrees and at least twice, high temperatures have led to equipment failure, they said. Illinois law mandates that hospitals must keep their HVAC systems in working order at all times.

Continued failure to fit test nurses for N95 respirators despite 2020 OSHA citation and fine. NNOC/NNU initiated the 2020 OSHA investigation after three hospital nurses died of COVID-19: Nancy Veto, RN, died in May; Anjanette Miller, RN, a nursing supervisor, died in April; and Dione Malana, RN, died in July. In December 2020, OSHA found that hospital administration had not taken appropriate steps to fit test the nursing staff for N95 respirators, and the hospital had failed to develop and implement a written respirator protection program. The hospital was fined $13,000. Hospital administration has, as of this date, still not fit tested nurses for the respirators they are providing, the nurses said.

Lack of personal protective equipment and faulty N95s: Hospital administration is supplying nurses with N95s stored in brown paper bags, not in their original manufacturer’s packaging, making it impossible to know if the respirators are expired, they allege. They also claim that straps on these N95s often break, nurses must reuse gowns intended for single-use, and nurses are asked to use gloves that do not fit.

The nurses also accuse the hospital of failure to pay employee health insurance premiums, causing loss of healthcare and failure to pay overtime.

This is not the first time Community First Medical Center has come under fire. In January 2020, eight emergency room physicians quit over safety concerns related to supply shortages, staffing issues, and equipment problems.

“Hospital management's refusal to address the ongoing and potentially life-threatening problems that persist throughout the hospital is putting our patients and our staff at risk.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Sheila Fitzgerald / Shutterstock.com


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Nurses are calling out alleged safety violations by Community First Medical Center in Chicago.

The hospital was fined $13,000 last December for not fit testing the nursing staff for N95 respirators.

Eight emergency room physicians quit in January 2020 over safety concerns.


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