A large health care workers union has recently made very serious allegations against a major U.S. health care company. Specifically, the National Nurses United (NNU), a major union representing over 150,000 nurses across the United States, alleges in a letter to the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) that due to a range of policies and practices, Nashville, TN-based HCA Healthcare, Inc. (HCA) places nurses and other front-line health care workers in imminent danger of serious harm or death. HCA responds that the NNU is essentially behaving as a militant organization exploiting the pandemic for gain and position.
TrialSite focuses on research and typically not general care; however, many of the hospitals implicated in these allegations run research operations as well, as does the corporate parent HCA Healthcare—hence at least the research departments in local hospitals and at the corporate headquarters represent trial site organizations. Trial sites represent a central interest for TrialSite News.
HCA Healthcare, for example, conducts large-scale clinical research with partners such as Harvard Pilgrim Institute and the CDC by using powerful data collected and analyzed from the vast patient pool. In fact, HCA Healthcare has been involved with prominent research efforts leading to published studies in major journals, such as the REDUCE MRSA study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
After listing a number of hospital facilities involved, the NNU claims in its letter to the federal government agency that health care workers (nurses, for example) are required to work despite SARS-CoV-2 infection. Moreover, the union claims the nurses and other front-line workers don’t have adequate protection on the job in the form of systematic testing; for example, workers aren’t routinely tested unless they are deemed symptomatic. It’s well known that many patients infected with COVID-19 may actually represent asymptomatic cases. The union recently took actions while demanding measures to reduce risk to the nurses and other staff.
In a recent MedPage Today article concerning this conflict, Cheryl Clark reported that June Phillips, a registered nurse for 13 years at Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida, described the situation from her point of view: “No one seems to care.”
In HCA’s response, the large for-profit health care provider rejects the union’s allegations. In fact, the same recent MedPage Today article shared that the company (HCA) believes that the nurses union is exploiting the pandemic for driving membership, which, of course, equates to more revenue and power. Ms. Clark introduced a spokeswoman for HCA’s West Florida division, Debra McKell, who reported that the union is ignoring the fact that HCA is actually following CDC guidelines. Ms. McKelll declared the hospital system exhibits “unwavering commitment” to the safety of its personnel.
According to Becker’s Hospital Review, Nashville-based HCA Healthcare represents the largest health system in the nation, owning and operating 185 hospitals. The for-profit system employs 38,000 active physicians and 94,000 registered nurses worldwide. The health system reports 31.2 million patient encounters annually as well as 8.9 million emergency room visits per year. The company has achieved great awards, including making it onto the The World’s Most Ethical Companies list for 10 straight years.
TrialSite’s Site Watch exists to track the quality, performance and commitment to patient safety at trial site organizations around the world. HCA is an incredibly important health care organization representing the access point of care for millions of Americans. Already involved in extensive research, the for-profit health care firm represents huge potential for the growing research as a care option initiative. It would be unfortunate if there was material truth to these allegations. If that’s the case, then expeditious corrective action would be in order. If, on the other hand, the union is employing radical tactics to gain leverage during a pandemic, that must be scrutinized and stopped.
A pandemic shouldn’t be used by companies to capitalize on squeezing out more profits, nor unions seeking position or advantage. The reality of this COVID-19 pandemic: there will be painful economic impacts and those gainfully employed will be considered blessed. However, in any health care institution, a lack of meeting the highest of safety standards isn’t acceptable. TrialSite will monitor and update the TrialSite Network.