California’s health department regularly updates a list of COVID infections and deaths at nursing homes. But only half of listed facilities where employees have died from the disease have reported the death to Cal/OSHA.
February 18, 2021 •
Jason Pohl, Dale Kasler, and Ryan Sabalow, The Sacramento Bee
(TNS) – Feb. 18—A year into the pandemic, California’s workplace safety watchdog doesn’t know how many nursing home workers have contracted COVID-19 on the job and died, a Sacramento Bee review of state records shows.
California’s health department regularly updates a list of COVID-19 infections and deaths at nursing homes. But only about half of those listed facilities where employees have died from the disease have bothered to report the death to Cal/ OSHA, the agency in charge of enforcing worker safety, according to the state records.
The failure to report the COVID-19 deaths — by as many as 64 nursing homes — exposes a significant flaw in the state’s response to the pandemic. The state is unable to fully track the spread of the deadly disease in a workplace setting where, more than anywhere else in California, the virus is ruthlessly stalking employees and patients.
The issue is particularly important among certified nursing assistants and vocational nurses, the twin pillars of most nursing homes but also among the lowest-paid workers in the healthcare industry. The long-term care industry employs some 147,000 workers to help care for an estimated 88,000 California seniors in nursing homes.
They often earn minimum wage and are disproportionately women of color. Fearing retaliation, they’re among those least likely to speak up against management when, for instance, the nursing home denies that a coronavirus infection occurred on the job and thus fails to report it to Cal/ OSHA.
“They want to under-report COVID deaths because it looks bad for them,” said Charlene Harrington, professor emerita of nursing at UC San Francisco.
Some in the nursing home industry say the data doesn’t tell the whole story — and they’re alarmed at any implication that facilities are intentionally covering up worker deaths.