A New York City hospital exposed workers to laundry contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids and didn’t follow up with other employees who had treated tuberculosis patients, according to federal labor investigators.
NewYork-Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center could be fined more than $201,000 for the violations, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators.
OSHA began looking into the hospital in July after learning that the facility had switched linen laundry bags with plastic ones that were prone to breaking when they came out of laundry chutes in the hospital’s basement.
OSHA said that when the bags burst, laundry workers had to gather up soiled clothes and linens and then repack them, and they didn't have the proper protective gear, training or facilities to handle the potentially hazardous materials.
“Management knew that these bags were deficient yet continued using them, even though they posed a potential health hazard for employees. This must change,” said Kay Gee, OSHA’s area director in Manhattan. “It’s also disturbing that our inspection identified other instances of insufficient protection against blood-borne hazards."
The local health care workers union said in a statment it supports OSHA's proposed fines and that it was the laundry service workers who filed the complaint that triggered the investigation.
The laundry bags were faulty and prone to breaking, but the hospital continued to use them as a cost-saving measure, added Bruce Richard, executive vice president of 1199SEIU, added.
Federal investigators also found that the hospital failed to screen patients to see if they had a higher risk of tuberculosis and didn’t follow up with employees who were exposed to patients with the infectious disease.
In a statement, NewYork-Presbyterian said it disagrees with OSHA's citations and is appealing them.
"The health and safety of our patients and employees is always our paramount concern," the hospital's statement said. "As this matter is in litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time."
Several hospital workers, including Modesto Gomez, found the allegations "shocking."