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Union claims FL nursing homes putting worker, patient lives at risk

WINK TV News: A certified nursing assistant at Heritage Park Rehabilitation and Healthcare, who only wanted to be identified by the name “Julie”, said management hid cases of COVID-19 from staff and failed to provide proper protective equipment. She provided proof of employment at the facility to WINK News, but said she feared she would be fired if management knew she was speaking out.

The problems are laid out in complaints filed in early May with the Occupational Safety Health Administration and Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration. The United Healthcare Workers Union East filed the complaints on behalf of members at the facility.

“The goal is to give workers proper PPE. The goal is to protect the patient, to protect the workers, protect the community,” said Margarette Nerette, a vice president with the union.

Nerette said workers at the Fort Myers facility contacted their union representative after finding out about positive COVID-19 cases on the Florida Department of Health website.

“Julie” claimed the executive director told staff there were no cases of the virus, but on April 22, staff located data online that indicated there were cases.

According to the state’s long-term care facility COVID-19 tracking, Heritage Park has had two residents and two staff members test positive for the coronavirus.

In its complaints to state and federal regulators, the union said, “the administration of the facility is violating AHCA directives, CDC guidelines and OSHA regulations for the safety of its healthcare providers caring for COVID-19 positive, suspected COVID-19 residents, and all residents requiring hands-on care,”

The complaint also alleges that staff is entering isolation rooms but not being provided PPE, such as face shields/goggles and not being informed why the patients are isolated.

“Julie” said she has had to use a patient’s nightgown as protection and purchased her own protective gear.

Nerette said the union has filed similar complaints against facilities across the state of Florida, but was not able to provide specific numbers or locations of those complaints.

The executive director for Heritage Park said she was very aware of the OSHA and ACHA complaints but could not comment. She provided a phone number for the corporate communications person for Consulate Health Care, the company that owns the facility.

As of publication, no one from Consulate Health Care has returned calls from WINK News.

This story appeared on WINK News on May 29, 2020.

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