Some healthcare employers — including a number of long-term care facilities — have been choosing not to report healthcare worker deaths to occupational safety officials amid the pandemic, according to an analysis released Monday by Kaiser Health News.
Overwhelmingly, these employers said they didn’t report the information because they deemed the deaths not work-related.
KHN’s analysis examined healthcare worker deaths profiled for the news outlet’s Lost on the Frontline investigation, conducted in partnership with The Guardian. The project tracks COVID-19 deaths among healthcare workers. As of Nov. 30, some 1,413 healthcare worker deaths were under investigation by the news organizations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to notify the agency if a healthcare worker dies of a work-related, confirmed case of COVID-19. KHN, however, found that the term “work-related” has left much room for interpretation. Upon examination of more than 240 healthcare worker deaths, it found that employers did not report more than one-third of them to a state or federal OSHA office.
Healthcare employers who chose not to report worker fatalities told KHN that they lacked proof that a worker was exposed on-site, even in workplaces reporting a COVID-19 outbreak. Medicare, on the other hand, requires nursing homes to report staff deaths each week, no matter where the exposure occurs, in a process unrelated to OSHA.
Work-safety advocates say reporting staff deaths is so important because OSHA investigations can help officials pinpoint problems before they endanger other employees, patients or residents. Thorough reviews also could have prompted the Department of Labor, which oversees OSHA, to urge the White House to address chronic protective gear shortages or sharpen guidance to help keep workers safe, analysis authors noted.