Federal inspectors have opened investigations into COVID-related worker deaths or hospitalizations at more than a half dozen nursing homes and specialty hospitals in Massachusetts, WGBH News has learned. Employee advocates, though, say they have little hope for meaningful penalties.
According to federal records, since Apr. 17 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has opened investigations into catastrophic injury of workers at five nursing or rehabilitation facilities in Massachusetts: Alliance Health in Braintree, Alliance Health at West Acres in Brockton, Baypointe in Brockton, The Palm Center in Chelmsford and Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Woburn. OSHA is also conducting such investigations at the Brockton VA Medical Center, the senior living community Traditions of Wayland and the Winthrop senior services center run by the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.
All of the inspections appear to involve COVID-related deaths of employees. USA Today reported in early May that OSHA had launched nearly 200 COVID-related workplace inspections nationwide, including at about 50 hospitals and two dozen nursing homes.
Ted Doyle, a spokesman for LCB Senior Living, which operates Traditions of Wayland and 27 other senior communities, said, “this is the first time there has ever been an associate death” since LCB was established in 2011. Doyle said the company has cooperated with OSHA and investigators have interviewed officials at the Wayland facility.
In a statement to WGBH News, Baypointe confirmed the death of its employee and said the facility “has followed all CDC guidance to contain the spread of COVID-19, including restricting visitation, screening all staff for symptoms, and proper use of Personal Protective Equipment. The facility has a five-star rating on Medicare.gov and has received two consecutive deficiency-free state surveys. We will, of course, cooperate with any investigation concerning the circumstances of this employee’s passing.”
The other facilities did not respond to requests for comment.
The spate of nursing home investigations is unusual. According to a WGBH News analysis of OSHA inspection data, OSHA opened only 11 investigations into nursing homes and assisted living centers in Massachusetts in all of 2019, four in 2018 and one in 2017. The current raft of investigations are all coded by the agency as “fatal or catastrophic,” the most serious category of inspection; no other nursing home investigations in the state over the past ten years have had that designation. OSHA databases indicate no current nursing home investigations in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont, but two have been launched in Connecticut.
Nursing homes and senior living centers have been the center of the COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts, with 3,200 of the state’s 5,300 fatalities occuring in long-term care facilities. That means workers in those facilities are also at heighened risk of infection.
But workplace safety advocates say it is unlikely that any of the OSHA inspections will lead to significant penalties against the facilities where worker deaths have occurred.