A union representing nurses at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State complained of hazardous exposure of the coronavirus to workers. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Former Managing Editor for Design

A union representing nurses at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State says thousands of workers have faced hazardous exposure to the coronavirus in a complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Ohio Division of Safety and Hygiene filed Tuesday.

Rick Lucas, president of the Ohio State University Nurses Organization, which represents more than 4,000 nurses, wrote in the complaint on behalf of the union that nurses and other health care professionals “are in imminent danger of infection and serious illness associated with SARS CoV-2 across the entire Medical Center.” At least 85 workers have been infected with COVID-19, according to the complaint. 

“Many have suffered serious illnesses and lost work time and may have also exposed or infected their families,” the complaint reads. 

Andrew Thomas, chief clinical officer at the medical center, said in a statement that the medical center has the “utmost respect and admiration” for clinical staff working during the pandemic. He said the medical center has followed CDC guidelines for both staff and patients, worked to buy more personal protection equipment and minimize usage, used a sterilization process for N95 masks, developed in-house testing, limited visitors for patients, monitored symptoms and temperatures for patients, visitors and staff, and offered paid leave for quarantined staff members. 

“We can’t respond to a complaint that we haven’t officially received from OSHA. We highly value our relationship with the union. In fact, members of our leadership team meet daily with union representatives to listen and address any concerns,” Thomas said in the statement.

The complaint details 14 instances in which it says workers were not provided with proper training or protection, and it says it is “a matter of written procedure” that staff members did not receive appropriate personal protective equipment, leading to exposure. 

Among those instances were workers not being provided with a sufficient supply of N95 masks despite treating suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, failure to provide fit testing for new masks and removal of all N95 masks from The James outpatient clinics while patients were still being seen there, the complaint says.

Affected areas in the medical center include the corrections unit, the fourth floor of the Dodd Rehabilitation Center that resulted in nurses being quarantined, a unit on the fifth floor of the Ross Heart Hospital that closed in order to quarantine staff, and the labor and delivery unit that had at least 12 members test positive for COVID-19, the complaint says. 

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This story was updated at 6:25 p.m. with comment from the Wexner Medical Center.