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HCA Healthcare faces lawsuit for allegedly 'recklessly' facilitating COVID-19 spread

Plaintiffs include three RCH employees who contracted COVID-19 and one individual whose mother died after contracting the virus, lawsuit says.

Mallory Hackett, Associate Editor

HCA Healthcare and its Riverside Community Hospital are being sued by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West for allegedly "recklessly" facilitating the spread of COVID-19 among its workers and the Riverside, California community.

"Defendants, through knowing and reckless acts and omissions, have failed to take reasonable and necessary precautions to protect their employees, patients, visitors, and the community from the harmful effects of COVID-19, thereby facilitating the spread of the virus and putting the surrounding community at an unnecessarily heightened risk of infection," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the Superior Court of California, alleges RCH forced employees to work without adequate personal protective equipment, including masks, gowns, hairnets, gloves and facial shields; required employees to work despite having COVID-19 symptoms; pressured employees not to take precautionary measures against COVID-19 exposure, such as sanitization, if they hindered efficiency; ignored worker complaints about lack of PPE; had inadequate contact tracing, and pressured workers to ignore workplace-safety measures.

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The plaintiffs in the case include three RCH employees who contracted COVID-19 and one individual whose mother died after contracting the virus. Notably, each of the plaintiffs is a member of a racial minority group, making them statistically more likely to contract COVID-19, and more likely to suffer serious symptoms, including death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They are seeking monetary compensation and a declaration from HCA that it committed a public nuisance and unfair business practices for its alleged acts.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This case marks a major lawsuit brought against a national hospital chain to hold it accountable for putting its workers at risk of contracting COVID-19, according to SEIU-UHW.

Frontline healthcare workers have been found to be at a significantly higher risk of COVID-19 infection, especially among those who had inadequate access to PPE, according to a medRxiv study.

"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," said one of the plaintiffs, Gladys Reyes, who works as a lab assistant and phlebotomist at RCH and tested positive for the virus in June.

The CDC has recorded over 139,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 640 deaths among healthcare personnel.

In response to the lawsuit, RCH shared a statement with Becker's Hospital Review saying it would "vigorously defend" itself from what it called an attempt from the union to "gain publicity."

THE LARGER TREND

The lawsuit follows a strike of registered nurses at RCH earlier this summer. The nurses issued a 10-day strike notice for staff shortages resulting in fewer RNs taking care of more patients and insufficient PPE leading to an increased risk of COVID-19 infection.

During the second quarter of 2020, HCA reported more than $1 billion in net income and $822 million in federal assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org