Health care centers say OSHA issues addressed

SALEM — A spokesman for Salem West and Salem North health care centers said issues raised recently by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have been addressed.

“We addressed all their concerns even before the citations were issued,” Fred Strathmann said via phone Friday.

Strathmann is a spokesman for the CommuniCare Family of Companies which operate the nursing homes located off Bentley and Continental drives.

According to a recent press release, OSHA cited the company known as OHNH EMP for violating respiratory protection standards. The violations were discovered after an inspection, which was prompted by the reporting of hospitalizations of employees for coronavirus. Besides the two Salem facilities, a third company facility, Pebble Creek Healthcare Center in Akron, was also cited.

“OSHA cited each location for a serious violation of two respiratory protection standards: failing to develop a comprehensive written respiratory protection program and failing to provide medical evaluations to determine employees’ ability to use a respirator in the workplace. OSHA also issued a Hazard Alert Letter regarding the company’s practice of allowing N95 respirator use for up to seven days and not conducting initial fit testing. The agency has proposed $40,482 in penalties,” the press release said.

OSHA Cleveland Area Office Director Howard Eberts said in the press release that “although the company was making efforts to protect its employees from the coronavirus, it had not fully implemented an appropriate respiratory protection program.”

He said “OSHA relied on one of its preexisting standards that protect workers from the coronavirus.”

Strathmann said the company corrected everything possible, but also noted they had trouble acquiring the fit test kits related to the N95 respirator masks. There was an informal meeting Thursday with OSHA and he said the hope is that they can get some of the fine reduced.

“We really feel the decision was made in a vacuum,” he said, adding “we were trying to comply with changing regulations in the midst of the pandemic.”

He said the nursing homes were actually taking action before the state issued the order to cease visitations, closing the doors to visitors on March 3. The company spent $4 million for personal protective equipment companywide, with the purchasing people calling all over the world to secure what they needed in an effort to protect employees, which in turn would help protect residents.

Since COVID-19 hit, Salem North reported two employee hospitalizations related to the coronavirus, with no employee hospitalizations for Salem West. The two hospitalizations prompted the OSHA visit.

Of residents, he reported 57 positive cases at Salem North and 19 deaths, with 27 positive cases and 15 deaths at Salem West. Only two of the three nursing homes formerly known as Essex 1, 2 and 3 are operating.

Strathmann said the nursing homes have aggressive treatment protocols in place to help residents sick with COVID-19, including the use of anti-coagulant medications to help reduce the chance for blood clots, the use of amino acid supplements and something called proning, which involves physical therapy to help patients lay in such a way to help avoid fluid buildup.

“We take the health and well-being of our patients and employees very seriously,” he said.

Employers with questions on compliance with OSHA standards should contact their local OSHA office for guidance and assistance at 800-321-OSHA (6742). OSHA’s COVID-19 response webpage offers extensive resources for addressing safety and health hazards during the evolving coronavirus pandemic, the press release said.


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