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FORT MYERS—Florida’s largest healthcare union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, has filed official complaints with federal and state agencies against Consulate Heritage Park Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Fort Myers for a “blatant disregard” of Covid-19 safety practices, putting the facility’s caregivers and patients at “high risk” of the deadly virus.
Serious shortages of masks, gloves, gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE) continue to be widespread at Florida nursing homes during the Covid-19 crisis, but the OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) and AHCA (Agency for Health Care Administration) complaints against Consulate Heritage Park are the first filed by 1199SEIU in the state due to the severity of the conditions at the 120-bed facility, according to union officials.
“We’ve been imploring state officials and nursing homes throughout this crisis to improve supplies and policies that better protect caregivers and their patients against this dangerous virus,” said Dale Ewart, executive vice president and Florida regional director for 1199SEIU. “But the problems reported by our members and the lack of cooperation by management at this facility brought us to this point of alerting OSHA and AHCA.”
So far, two patients tested positive and one has died related to Covid-19 at Consulate Heritage Park, according to state reports. At least one worker is quarantined due to possible exposure, the union reports.
However, a lack of comprehensive testing makes the true number of Covid infections at the facility unknown, said RN Betsy Marville, who filed the complaints on behalf of workers and 1199SEIU.
Caregivers help feed, bathe, dress and other close-contact essential needs for elderly patients most vulnerable to the virus, yet they lack basic PPE, according to the OSHA and AHCA complaints. Among numerous issues, the filings to OSHA and AHCA state:
• Healthcare providers are entering rooms where droplet isolation cards are posted, but there is no PPE available, including face shields/goggles, masks, gloves, and gowns.
• CNAs who are directly caring for residents who are on isolation are denied knowledge of why the isolation has been initiated, including for patients who are Covid-positive or suspected of being Covid-positive.
• Workers were provided only one face mask and told to make it last “forever,” when such equipment is medically designed for disposable one-time use.
• Until the state published a list of facilities with confirmed Covid cases, direct caregivers were unaware they were working with Covid-positive patients.
• While workers were denied PPE, Consulate Heritage Park management reported to state officials that the facility had adequate supplies.
The OSHA and AHCA complaints also cite “fear, intimidation, and divisiveness” from Consulate Heritage Park management to prevent staff from reporting dangerous working conditions.
The facility is operated by Consulate Health Care, one of the largest long-term companies in the nation with dozens of locations across Florida.
“We’re talking about possible life and death consequences for residents and staff each time a caregiver walks into a room without proper protections. Workers are scared for their patients, themselves and their own families,” said Clara Smith, 1199SEIU regional director in Southwest Florida. “There’s more fear than I’ve ever seen during 40 years in this field.”
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest healthcare union in the country representing more than 450,000 nurses and healthcare workers nationwide, including more than 24,000 in Florida. Our nurses, certified nursing assistants and other healthcare workers care for Florida families in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities throughout the state.