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Federal agency calls for investigation into McLaren Macomb following 7 Investigators report

Posted at 5:15 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 18:30:24-04

(WXYZ) — Last month, the 7 Investigators showed you how nurses inside McLaren Macomb were blowing the whistle on what they said were unsanitary conditions and a lack of COVID-19 protocols inside the hospital. That story sparked a social media firestorm, prompting thousands of shares and comments from patients and employees detailing similar concerns.

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Now we have learned a federal agency has asked the State of Michigan to launch an investigation into McLaren Macomb in the wake of 7 Investigator Heather Catallo’s story.

Stacks of soiled linens, overflowing garbage cans, dirty bathrooms, and messy floors. Those are just some of the cleanliness problems inside McLaren Macomb that employees and patients have alleged to the 7 Investigators.

“It is very dirty, it is not clean, it is not being sanitized. We have two housekeepers on the day shift for a massive emergency department. After 3pm, I believe that one housekeeper is shared for most of the hospital,” said a McLaren nurse.

In May, nurses from McLaren’s newly remodeled Emergency Department came forward, alleging COVID-19 protocols were not being followed inside the ER. They asked us to hide their identities because they feared losing their jobs. Now patients are coming forward as well.

“The experience was the most awful experience I’ve ever experienced in my life in a hospital - ever,” said Christine Saunders from Mt. Clemens. Saunders says she spent more than 36 hours in the ER in March before being moved to the COVID-19 unit at McLaren Macomb.

“You could immediately smell the stench. It was disgusting,” Saunders told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.

Saunders says she thought she’d be isolated as a COVID patient, but instead she says a woman with a 104-degree fever was put next to her in her room. Saunders says the other patient was unable to control her bowels and alleges the staff wouldn’t let them keep the door to the room open.

“The smell was absolutely disgusting. I couldn’t even take it, not even with 3 masks,” said Saunders. She says she had to endure the smell for two hours, and no one came to clean it up, despite repeated requests.

“I kept ringing the button,” said Saunders.

Saunders alleges the conditions inside were so bad, she checked herself out of the hospital in the middle of the night.

“It didn’t look like they had anybody keeping up with the rooms, they didn’t have enough staff,” said Saunders.

She then filed a complaint with the hospital, which her sent her two different apology letters. One of them told her the manager of the unit where Saunders was had addressed Saunders concerns with the staff.

Saunders says she also filed formal complaints with the State of Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) and The Joint Commission, which provides accreditation to hospitals. The Joint Commission had previously launched an investigation into McLaren Macomb after the 7 Action News investigation in May.

McLaren Macomb Employees have been filing complaints with the state as well.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or MIOSHA, has investigated 9 different formal complaints from employees about the hospital.

While some of those investigations are still underway, the 7 Investigators obtained the closed complaints through the Freedom of Information Act, as well as other records. The state cannot release the details of the open complaints until their investigation is complete.

Some of the MIOSHA complaints are about lack of PPE at the start of the pandemic, which was a problem at many hospitals. But more recent complaints allege:

  • An April 2021 complaint alleged that COVID-19 patients are not isolated and their rooms are not sanitized in the ER;
  • A July 2020 complaint alleged the hospital was not taking patient temperatures before moving them to rooms, potentially exposing others to the coronavirus; restrained patients are not being monitored due to excessive patient load; patients on ventilators not being monitored; IV fluids were placed in a blanket warmer, elevating the fluid temperature to a dangerous level; the medication refrigerators were alleged to be disorganized, potentially increasing the chance for a fatal drug mix up;
  • A November 2020 complaint alleged that fit testing of respirators was not up to date;
  • And a January 2021 complaint alleged McLaren isn’t testing patients for COVID if they’ve been admitted to the hospital.

In all of the completed complaints provided to us by the state, MIOSHA closed the investigation after receiving written documentation from the hospital. The state considered the hospital’s response “satisfactory” each time, but the 7 Investigators learned that no one from MIOSHA ever went on site to inspect the conditions in person.

A MIOSHA spokeswoman says doing inspections via letter and phone call is a normal practice, but McLaren nurses call that disturbing.

“We’re crying out to them, ‘please help us,’ and no one’s coming,” said Dina Carlisle, the Vice President of the nurse’s union at McLaren Macomb, Local 40 OPEIU.

“We continue to make these complaints to the hospital regarding these issues, but who ultimately do they answer to,” asked Carlisle about the lack of on-site inspections.

Another branch of the government is now investigating these allegations about McLaren Macomb.

Since the start of the pandemic, a LARA spokeswoman says their Bureau of Community & Health Services has received 35 complaints about McLaren Macomb.

Twenty-six of those were either closed or referred to a federal or outside agency for further investigation.

Six of those complaints were filed after the 7 Action News original investigation aired in May, including one initiated by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS. State officials confirm CMS asked LARA to launch an investigation after seeing our story.

“I think that patient safety is my priority. It’s part of our duty to all work together and have a great environment for our patients and for the staff to work there,” said Carlisle.

Here is an additional break down of state complaints to LARA and CMS, as provided to the 7 Investigators by the state:

McLaren Macomb:

Since our initial response was sent on 05/05/21, we have received an additional 6 complaints against McLaren Macomb.

  • 5 of them were triaged in accord with CMS protocols and the complainant(s) was referred to the hospital’s accrediting organization (AO).
  • The other 1 intake originated from CMS and was referred to the BCHS federal team that conducts hospital surveys and investigations on behalf of CMS. The CMS initiated intake was based on a media article indicating infection control concerns and that the facility is not being properly cleaned or sanitized.

The updated total McLaren Macomb numbers (including the 6 additional complaints) are below.

Of the 35 McLaren Macomb complaints received since 03/01/20:

  • 5 were referred to CMS and all were approved by CMS for the BCHS federal team to investigate.
  • 1 was opened by CMS and referred to the BCHS federal team to investigate.
    • (Of these 6: There are 4 pending investigation and 2 were investigated but no citations were issued).
  • 29 were triaged by intake staff under CMS protocols and the complainant(s) was referred to the hospital’s AO, and any other appropriate entities – such as the Department of Attorney General or other regulatory agencies.

The 7 Investigators asked multiple times for an on-camera interview from someone from McLaren Macomb to discuss these complaints. McLaren officials wanted our questions in writing prior to the interview, which is something we ethically do not do for anyone we interview. We will keep trying to get our questions answered on-camera.

Late Monday, a written statement from Tom Brisse, McLaren Macomb President & CEO, was provided:

LARA Complaints

"McLaren Macomb has been made aware of only 2 complaints in the past year that were investigated by LARA. For those 2 complaints, no further action has been requested or required of McLaren Macomb. We question the accuracy of anyone suggesting that additional complaints have been submitted to LARA, since the agency does not make that information available to any individual or organization."

ER Cleanliness

"Our team continues to clean and sanitize our facility to ensure safe care for our patients. Our emergency department is staffed by our Environmental Services (housekeeping) team 24 hours-a-day. ER patient rooms are deep-cleaned daily and cleaned between each patient. Our ER waiting room is deep-cleaned daily, with a goal of 3 times each day and it’s monitored throughout the day for ongoing cleaning.

Our housekeeping team checks/cleans the ER every 3 hours overnight. After the space is cleaned, our housekeeping leadership gets the work approved/signed off by the ER charge nurse. We maintain those logs for auditing purposes.

Our housekeeping team checks/cleans the ER waiting rooms several times each day (typically 3 to 5 times per day). Our housekeeping team is responsible for signing a log after each cleaning. We also maintain those logs for auditing purposes.

In addition to the housekeeping details above, we conduct impromptu housekeeping rounds. During these unannounced rounds the areas of focus are selected by an ER nurse. A sample of photos from last week are attached."

We can not verify when the following provided photos were taken:

Last month, hospital officials suggested the nurses were only talking to us because their union is entering contract negotiations. The nurses the 7 Investigators interviewed denied that, saying they risked their jobs to speak up, because they felt the public needed to know what was going on inside the hospital.

To report a patient safety concern or file a claim (The Joint Commission), go here. Or to file a complaint through LARA, go here.

If you have a story for Heather, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com