After four healthcare workers with Riverside Community Hospital became sick from Covid-19, they and their families sued the hospital and its for-profit owner for failing to provide adequate protections. The lawsuit, brought by Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West against Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), accused the hospital of putting patients, workers and the surrounding community at an increased risk of infection.

Three Riverside Community Hospital workers and the daughter of a hospital employee who died from Covid-19 brought the lawsuit against the large hospital chain. They said workers were not given access to adequate protective equipment, were not informed when they might have been exposed to Covid-19 and were told to come back to work when they still had Covid-19 symptoms.

Sally Lara, a part-time lab assistant and phlebotomist at the hospital in Riverside, California, reportedly had to purchase her own masks, gowns, face shields and booties. She worked in close proximity with patients who had Covid-19 and employees that had also been exposed to the virus, according to the complaint.

After she was exposed to Covid-19 in a work shift on May 9, Lara died of the disease one month later, on June 8. Her daughter, Vanessa Campos Villalobos, is a plaintiff in the case. A total of 142 healthcare workers in California had died of Covid-19 as of August 12, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Two additional plaintiffs in the case, Vanessa Mondragon and Gladys Reyes, were both lab assistants and phlebotomists at the hospital. They were assigned to draw blood from patients on Riverside Community Hospital’s “Covid floors,” where they would take certain precautions, such as cleaning their PPE and sanitizing equipment after drawing each patient.

But when the number of blood draws per hour decreased from six patients per hour to two, hospital supervisors allegedly told them “…this decrease in efficiency was unacceptable, and that they need not sanitize all of their equipment if they could not meet the prior quota of six blood draws per hour,” according to the lawsuit.

Reyes tested positive for Covid-19 on June 24. She still had symptoms when she was asked to come back into work on July 21. Even though she was told that she didn’t need to take another Covid-19 test before returning to work, she took one anyways, and the result was positive, according to the complaint.

Mondragon tested positive for Covid-19 on July 13.  She was reportedly told to return to work for her scheduled shift on July 18, and that she did not need to take a second test. As of August 10, she was still sick.

Similarly, a patient safety observer, Ray Valdivia, tested positive for Covid-19 on May 22. According to the complaint, he was told to return to work on June 29, despite still experiencing shortness of breath and other symptoms. He took a second test, but had worked that day’s shift before the result came back. It was positive.

When Lara, Valdivia, Mondragon and other workers complained to management about the lack of PPE, notice of exposure and other safety precautions, they were told that the hospital was following CDC guidelines, according to the complaint.

In an emailed statement, Riverside Community Hospital said its safety efforts included testing of colleagues and universal masking.

“No one takes the health and safety of our workers more seriously than we do, and since day one, our top priority has been to protect them – to keep them safe and keep them employed – so they can best care for our patients,” the hospital stated. “This lawsuit is an attempt for the union to gain publicity, and we will defend it vigorously.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of California on August 19. Plaintiffs are seeking compensation in an amount to be determined at trial.


Photo credit: artisteer, Getty Images

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