Labor Department announces more inspections of hospitals, nursing homes

The department has announced a three-month period of increased inspections beginning today. Officials say they are focusing on ‘high-hazard’ facilities treating COVID-19 patients.

Some hospitals and nursing home facilities can expect to see more inspections from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Labor Department said it plans to do more inspections of some hospitals and long-term care facilities treating COVID-19 patients. On March 8, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced an enforcement memorandum for what it called “a short-term increase in highly focused inspections directed at hospitals and skilled nursing care facilities that treat or handle COVID-19 patients.”

OSHA plans to begin a three-month period of increased inspections beginning today and running through June 9. The labor department says OSHA plans to target “high-hazard healthcare facilities” and aims to ensure sufficient protections are in place for healthcare workers.

The move comes as federal officials have urged healthcare organizations to take more aggressive steps to protect the safety of patients and workers.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker said the goal is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and ensure preparation for any new variants.

“We are using available tools while we finalize a healthcare standard,” Parker said in a statement. “We want to be ahead of any future events in healthcare.”

OSHA says it plans to look at the existing capabilities and future readiness of hospitals and nursing homes to protect workers from COVID-19.

The agency said it would be conducting follow-up inspections to facilities where problems were reported, including those organizations that had complaints but OSHA staff didn’t conduct in-person inspections.

OSHA also intends to examine hospitals and long-term care facilities to determine how well prepared they are to handle future COVID-19 surges.

COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked in January but have fallen sharply in recent weeks. The 7-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations is about 29,700, a drop of about 80% from the peak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal officials have cited a sharp drop in patient safety, and pointed out some gains in previous years were quickly wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. In an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine, leaders with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the CDC said there are disturbing indicators, including a sharp rise in infections.

The federal officials called on healthcare organizations to place a greater focus on improving the safety of patients and employees. The officials also said the federal government could be looking at more oversight to drive improvements.

The Labor Department has been showing increased concern about the safety at healthcare organizations. Citing a 249% increase in injury and illness rates among workers, the department recently urged healthcare organizations to develop and utilize safety and training programs.

Most healthcare organizations are also dealing with another recent government order: a federal mandate to ensure all of their employees have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

President Joe Biden’s administration issued an order requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of staff at healthcare organizations that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funds. There are limited health and religious exemptions.

Staff are now expected to be fully vaccinated in 25 states and Washington, D.C. Healthcare workers in most remaining states must be fully vaccinated by March 15, while workers in Texas have until March 21.

Hospitals and nursing homes have asked for federal officials to show some leniency as they work to comply with the mandate. The penalties for a lack of compliance range from fines to a loss of federal funds.

Federal officials have said they intend to work with healthcare organizations that are aiming to follow the order but said they expect facilities to comply with the vaccine mandate.