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2 New Jersey Health Facilities Cited For Failing To Protect Employees During COVID-19 Pandemic

"Heroes Work Here" reads a sign outside of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center.
"Heroes Work Here" reads a sign outside of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center. Photo Credit: Special to Daily Voice

A pair of New Jersey hospitals were issued citations by the U.S. Labor Department for failing to protect workers from COVID-19.

CarePlus Bergen Inc., and Hackensack Meridian Health Residential Care Inc., were each slapped with citations from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

CarePlus is accused of violating respiratory standards at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus, while Hackensack Meridian failed to provide respirators to resident-care employees at its North Bergen facility, OSHA announced Friday.

A New Bridge spokesperson said the center has not received the referenced report.

"It is important to note that we have been in lockstep with state and CDC issued guidance for employee safety protocols regarding COVID-19 and ahead of the curve when it came to universal masking and testing," the company said in the statement. "The safety of our staff, patients and long term care residents has always been our priority and we have aggressive respiratory protection protocols, including FIT testing, which we have heightened throughout this pandemic."

A Hackensack Meridian spokesperson said they will be contesting the citations.

"This is an open investigation and we are challenging several of the OSHA findings," said Dr. Daniel Varga, chief physician executive for Hackensack Meridian Health. "We vehemently oppose the union’s characterization of our approach to team member safety as 'abhorrent’ or 'callous.'

"We believe that the safety standards that we had to adopt in this unprecedented global pandemic absolutely protected our team members."

Bergen New Bridge was cited for two serious violations with proposed penalties of $9,639. Based on a coronavirus-related inspection, the facility failed to fit test tight-fitting face piece respirators on employees who were required to wear them. The facility also failed to train employees on proper respirator use and ensure employees understood when to wear a respirator, OSHA said.

Hackensack Meridian is facing $28,070 for failing to conduct proper respirator fit testing, effective training and compliant medical evaluations during the period after employees were provided with respirators they were required to use. The company is also facing a third, less-serious violation for failing to establish a fit-test record for qualitative fit tests.

"Employers must take appropriate steps to protect the safety and health of their employees during the pandemic," Parsippany OSHA Area Director Kris Hoffman said. 

"OSHA will continue to field and respond to complaints and take steps needed to address unsafe workplaces, including vigorous enforcement action for all standards that apply to the coronavirus, as warranted."

The companies have 15 business days from receipt of the citation and penalty to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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