First-in-the-Nation Lawsuit Against National Hospital Chain Alleges its Reckless Actions Spread COVID to Patients, Workers, Public

First-in-the-Nation Lawsuit Against National Hospital Chain Alleges its Reckless Actions Spread COVID to Patients, Workers, Public

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, August 20, 2020

CONTACT:   Steve Trossman, (213) 300-1882; strossman@seiu-uhw.org

First-in-the-Nation Lawsuit Against National Hospital Chain Alleges its Reckless Actions Spread COVID to Patients, Workers, Public

Workers and Family Members Layout How HCA Healthcare and Riverside Community Hospital Put Entire Community at Risk

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – A lawsuit filed in Superior Court (click to access) here is the first in the nation to allege that a major national hospital chain – HCA Healthcare, the country’s largest for-profit health system – and its hospital in Riverside recklessly facilitated the spread of COVID-19, putting patients, workers and the surrounding community at a heightened risk of infection.

The plaintiffs in the case include three Riverside Community Hospital (RCH) workers who contracted COVID-19, and the daughter of an RCH employee who got sick with the virus and subsequently died.

“All of us as healthcare workers know we face higher risks in a hospital environment where we work in close proximity to patients suffering from COVID-19, but this hospital and its parent company didn’t follow CDC guidelines and didn’t seem to care about our safety or the safety of our patients,” said one of the plaintiffs, Gladys Reyes, who works as a lab assistant and phlebotomist at RCH and tested positive for the virus in June. “I was told I didn’t need a second COVID-19 test before returning to work in July even though I still had symptoms. I took one anyway and tested positive.”

The lawsuit alleges that HCA and RCH took actions that created a dangerous work environment for RCH employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn created a “public nuisance” resulting in dangerous conditions for patients, visitors, and the community. Those actions include:

  • Forcing employees to work without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gowns, hairnets, gloves, and facial shields;
  • Forcing sick employees to work despite having COVID-19 symptoms and being highly contagious;
  • Pressuring employees to not take reasonable and necessary precautions against exposure to COVID-19 – such as frequent or effective sanitization of commonly used medical tools and commonly touched surfaces – if such precautions would harm efficiency and/or productivity; and
  • Ignoring repeated worker complaints to supervisors about the lack of adequate PPE, inadequate contact tracing for workers who had exposure to the coronavirus or even those who tested positive, pressure put on workers to ignore recommended workplace safety precautions, and hospital management’s failure to promptly notify workers who were exposed to the virus.

Defendants in the suit are HCA Healthcare, which made more than $1 billion in profits in the second quarter of 2020 and has received $6 billion in federal bailout money; Samuel N. Hazen, CEO of HCA Healthcare who was paid nearly $27 million in 2019; Riverside Healthcare System L.P. d/b/a Riverside Community Hospital; and Jackie DeSouza-Van Blaricum, CEO of RCH.

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SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) is one of the largest unions of hospital workers in the United States, with 97,000 members. Learn more at www.seiu-uhw.org.