WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - Kaiser Walnut Creek is the latest facility to be cited by a state agency for COVID violations, bringing the total of Kaiser medical centers in California that have been found in violation of coronavirus protocol to 12.
The newest Cal-OSHA citations were issued Jan. 22. All four citations were serious and the fines total $45,000. The investigation was prompted by some sort of accident in June, which wasn't revealed in the report. Some of the inspections lasted until December.
Registered Nurse Jill Leon used to work in Kaiser Walnut Creek's COVID unit and said there are still issues.
"Without staffing and the support we need, we can't give the quality care and deliver the safety that patients are entitled to as well as the staff," she told KTVU on Tuesday.
Last March, nurses rallied at several Kaiser facilities over the lack of enough personal protective equipment and accused management of keeping masks locked up while not properly sequestering possible coronavirus patients.
Leon said the citations "validates what we've all been fighting for since the beginning of the pandemic and we all felt we weren't being listened to."
In a statement sent late Tuesday afternoon, Kaiser Permanente said it hoped these citations wouldn't scare patients away.
"It’s concerning that these citations and associated fines are being inappropriately interpreted to signal ongoing serious infractions of current public health guidelines at Kaiser Permanente," the statement read. "Each of these citations is in the process of being appealed by Kaiser Permanente and are not considered final determinations. Unequivocally, our medical centers are safe places to work and receive care."
As Kaiser has said previously, the citations stem mainly from allegations earlier in the pandemic, as health care systems "grappled with national shortages and evolving public health guidance." In a number of cases, Kaiser said these complaints do not align with Cal-OSHA, CDC, or other state or local public health guidelines in place at the time.
During this pandemic, Kaiser said that some advocacy groups have undertaken efforts to file OSHA complaints as part of their campaign to advocate for change in the then-current regulatory guidance – and filing complaints against Kaiser Permanente "provided high visibility for these efforts."
"We understand that, but it doesn’t take away from the great work that has been done to care for our patients, keep our staff safe, and comply with federal, state and local public health guidance under precedented circumstances," the statement read.
The most recent Cal-OSHA violations include:
- Kaiser failed to implement work practices to prevent or minimize employee exposure to airborne transmissions, such as not implementing effective screening procedures for employees and patients entering their facility.
- Kaiser failed to provide and ensure that employees in the operating rooms used respirators, including powered air-purifying respirators, while performing high-hazard procedures, such as intubations and extubations, on COVID-19 cases and suspected cases.
- Kaiser failed to investigate exposure incidents in the Emergency Department and Operating Room to notify employees who had significant exposures to COVID-19 cases and to provide post-exposure medical services to those employees.
- Kaiser failed to train employees on all the modes of transmission of coronavirus, including aerosol transmission, and the appropriate source controls for preventing COVID-19 as an airborne infectious disease.
- Kaiser failed to train employees on the limitations of preventing exposure to coronavirus. Employees were not informed that surgical masks would not protect them against inhalation of infectious aerosols.
To be fair, Kaiser is one of the largest nonprofit healthcare plans in the United States, one of the reasons the organization points out it has the most number of citations among the health care facilities.
"Not only does Kaiser Permanente have a significant number of large hospitals in California," according to an earlier statement, "we were also among the first to treat patients with COVID-19 – something that we are extremely proud of, but which also provided high visibility for these efforts."
The Walnut Creek site is the latest Kaiser complex fined by the state.
Since the outbreak in mid-March, Cal-OSHA has fined roughly 130 businesses for COVID violations. Kaiser comprises 12 of those businesses for a total of 51 violations; 29 of them serious.
Penalty-wise, Kaiser's citations now total $499,420, though the nonprofit may end up lowering the amount on appeal.
In addition to Walnut Creek, a review of records shows that Kaiser Permanente hospitals in San Jose, Antioch, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Oakland, Redwood City and locations in Southern California, have been cited, too.
Leon said that ll these worker safety violations end up affecting patient safety.
"It can impact in many ways," she said. "Part of it is in the care than we give."
Here is the list of Cal-OSHA's citations levied against Kaiser in California in regards to coronavirus and workplace safety:
Kaiser San Leandro $87,500
Kaiser San Jose $87,375
Kaiser Oakland $78,300
Kaiser Antioch $56,000
Kaiser Santa Rosa $55,350
Kaiser Walnut Creek $45,000
Kaiser Redwood City $39,685
Kaiser Ontario $18,075
Kaiser San Francisco $16,400
Kaiser Santa Clara $11,200
Kaiser Lancaster $5,000
Kaiser Zion in San Diego $1,535