nursing wearing PPE, holding head
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Assisted living communities and other healthcare settings cited for previous COVID-19 safety violations are facing additional pandemic-related scrutiny from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced this week that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is launching a time-limited enforcement effort for focused inspections in assisted living communities, nursing facilities and hospitals treating people with COVID-19. 

The inspections, limited to organizations with previous COVID-19-related citations or complaints, will focus on correction of the citations and compliance with existing OSHA standards to emphasize monitoring for current and future readiness. 

The agency said the goal is to expand its presence to ensure continued mitigation efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 and future variants, and to protect the health and safety of healthcare workers “at heightened risk for contracting the virus.”

Inspections will be conducted March 9 to June 9, with OSHA devoting 15% of all of its inspections to healthcare organizations in the following classifications: assisted living facilities for the elderly, nursing care / skilled nursing facilities, psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, and general medical and surgical hospitals. 

“We are using available tools while we finalize a healthcare standard,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dough Parker said. “We want to be ahead of any future events in healthcare.”

Fisher Phillips wrote in a post on its website that the “aggressive effort” toward pandemic-related scrutiny may be an interim step until OSHA finalizes an anticipated permanent infectious disease standard for the healthcare industry. OSHA withdrew the non-recordkeeping portion of its healthcare emergency temporary standard in December but said at the time that it would “work expeditiously to issue a final standard.” The agency said it would accept continued compliance with the healthcare ETS as satisfying employers’ obligations under OSHA’s general duty clause.

OSHA adopted its COVID-19 healthcare ETS — which is separate from the COVID-19 vaccination-and-testing ETS it withdrew in January — in June. The healthcare ETS required assisted living communities and other healthcare settings to conduct hazard assessments and have written plans in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The workplace safety rules also required healthcare employers to provide some employees with N95 respirators and other personal protective equipment. Additionally, the standard included social distancing, employee screening, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

Argentum told McKnight’s Senior Living that although OSHA highlights skilled nursing facilities and hospitals in its memorandum for regional administrators, assisted living facilities also are referenced. The association encouraged community leaders to review the memorandum for more details.

Fisher Phillips pointed out that more than 20 states have their own OSHA-approved state plans and may proceed differently than those subject to federal OSHA standards. But it recommended that all healthcare employers in high-risk settings be prepared for inspection. The firm also recommended that healthcare employers have COVID-19 procedures and protocols in place and review their procedures for managing OSHA inspections.