(WXYZ) — Nurses are blowing the whistle on conditions inside a local hospital emergency department. They’re alleging that COVID-19 patients are not being isolated, potentially exposing other patients and staff. They also say you can regularly see stacks of soiled linens, overflowing garbage, and they allege the waiting room at the McLaren Macomb emergency room is rarely cleaned.
Now the nation’s largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care is opening up a report based on the allegations in this investigation.
The nurses spoke to the 7 Investigators on the condition of anonymity because they fear losing their jobs.
“I think that the public should know what is happening to their healthcare heroes, to their frontline workers. It’s appalling,” said one McLaren Macomb emergency department nurse.
“Would you send a family member to McLaren Macomb,” asked 7 Investigator Heather Catallo of another nurse.
“No never. I even tell my friends not to go there because I know they’re not taking the precautions that are necessary to keep the patients safe,” said the second nurse.
The nurses say inside the brand new $68 million dollar Emergency Department at McLaren Macomb you’ll find stacks of soiled linens, overflowing garbage cans, filthy patient bathrooms, and messy floors.
“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 the first nurse.
The nurses say when they call for housekeeping to come sanitize the rooms, sometimes no one shows up. They say they don’t have the time or resources to deep clean beyond the usual tidying up they do once a patient is discharged or admitted.
“It’s not being wiped down the way it should be, or bleached, nothing,” said the second nurse. “It’s terrifying because someone could be coming in for abdominal pain, and they’re going to be leaving with COVID.”
The Michigan Nurses Association, which does not represent McLaren nurses, told us it is not standard practice in hospitals to expect nurses to sanitize rooms.
“Nurses are committed to being team players with many other health care professionals and support staff, and many times they pitch in to contain infectious substances and to keep patient care areas free from waste. However, it would be an expected model of care to have designated environmental services professionals who are trained in disinfection and environmental hygiene policies for the institution to be the lead on cleaning patient care areas. Nurses do not have training in surface disinfection nor do they have the availability to dedicate the time needed for these important practices,” said Larissa Miller,
Associate Executive Director of Nursing Education, Practice & Research and Government Affairs for MNA when the 7 Investigators asked about standards across the region.
The McLaren nurses also allege the Emergency Department waiting room is rarely cleaned and that COVID-19 patients are not isolated.
Right now the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) is investigating a complaint about those same concerns. Since the start of the pandemic, MIOSHA has investigated 9 different complaints about McLaren Macomb.
Also in the last year the state agency that licenses hospitals, LARA’s Bureau of Community & Health Services, received 29 complaints against McLaren Macomb. Of those 29 complaints, 26 of them were either closed without a violation or referred to a federal or other outside agency for further investigation. Three of those complaints are still waiting a final disposition.
The McLaren emergency room nurses also say McLaren has not helped them obtain workers disability compensation when they’ve been sidelined without pay after contracting COVID-19, even though the state issued an emergency order last fall to make sure frontline workers are covered.
“We’re told it was likely community acquired, when I know I was directly caring for COVID patients,” said the second nurse.
That’s exactly what a hospital spokesman told us about their frontline medical staff contracting COVID-19.
In a written statement, McLaren Macomb CEO Tom Brisse said, “Workers’ Disability Compensation is designed for employees experiencing a work-related illness or injury. As COVID-19 has infiltrated our communities we’re finding that most cases are generated in the community and cannot be attributed to hospital exposure.”
“It’s just such a slap in the face to be called a hero, and then when you get sick and you need the help from your employer,” said the nurse.
The McLaren nurses say they’ve been given no hazard pay during the pandemic, nor have they received a bank of sick time to use like their counterparts at other local hospitals.
And despite the recent surge of coronavirus cases in Michigan, the nurses allege the staff is not being regularly tested nor are they asked screening questions. Instead they say, just by entering the building, the hospital assumes they have no symptoms. The nurses say they fear that means some staff report to work with mild symptoms and may not realize they’re COVID positive.
“Why should a healthcare worker on the front lines tell the truth if they know that they’re not going to be compensated for any time off? How are they going to pay their bills,” said one of the nurses, alleging they’re being put in a difficult position.
The hospital CEO would not talk to the 7 Investigators on camera, but told us through a spokesman that all employees are offered free COVID-19 testing at the hospital as well as at other community locations.
Regarding the allegations of lack of cleaning, Brisse said in a written statement: “Our team continues to clean and sanitize our facility to ensure quality care for our patients. Our emergency department is staffed by our Environmental Services team 24 hours-a-day. ER patient rooms are deep-cleaned daily and cleaned between each patient. Our ER waiting room is deep-cleaned a minimum of 3 times each day and monitored throughout the day for ongoing cleaning as needed.”
These nurses and others we’ve spoken to say that’s not true and say they just want some support from the hospital to keep patients and staff safe.
“It makes you feel terrible. I’ve questioned whether or not I even want to be a nurse,” said one nurse.
“When you have risked your life on the front line and the lives of your family, and your employer could care less if you live or die.”
A hospital spokesman at McLaren suggested the nurses were only making these allegations because the McLaren nurses’ union will be negotiating a new contract this summer. Both of the whistleblowers who agreed to be interviewed denied that and said they came to us because they didn’t think the union, hospital management, or the state were doing enough to keep the public safe.
The nation’s largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care is opening up a report based on the allegations in this story. The Joint Commission’s Office of Quality and Patient Safety is going to review these concerns and determine if they can take any action with McLaren Macomb’s accreditation. Options include continuing to evaluate the organization, inquiring with the organization about the matter, or evaluating the concerns with an onsite review.
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