woman putting on mask

The final version of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s rule meant to protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 has reached the White House Office of Management and Budget for review but is still facing opposition from long-term care industry groups.

Worker and employer advocacy organizations are meeting with White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to share input about OSHA’s proposed rule, according to reports. Details of the proposal have yet to be unveiled, “leaving advocates to guess what requirements will be included,” Bloomberg Law shared

A permanent standard has been in the works since a temporary one was withdrawn in December 2021. But long-term care and clinician groups have opposed it as “overly prescriptive” and have noted that they already are complying with similar guidance from states and other federal agencies.

In a letter to Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Douglas Parker on Wednesday, the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living expressed concern about OSHA’s pending rule. 

“Many of the controls that OSHA is considering in their healthcare standard already exist,” AHCA President and CEO Mark Parkinson wrote. “At this stage, we must focus on interventions, such as vaccines, treatments, and testing, that reduce spread and protect lives while allowing long-term care residents to live in [a] safe, happy and homelike environment.”

Those safeguards, he said, all already are addressed in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

A representative from Argentum told the McKnight’s Business Daily that the organization has expressed to the federal government that assisted living should be differentiated from other forms of long-term care. “Assisted living should not be considered a healthcare setting, because it is the home of these senior residents,” the representative said.

The withdrawn temporary standard required employers to maintain infection prevention and control programs, provide paid leave to encourage vaccination and track COVID-19 cases. ​​Some say that the proposed permanent standard may not even be legal, Bloomberg Law reported, as the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires permanent rules to be enacted within six months of the temporary rule taking effect. The temporary rule was announced a year and a half ago, in June 2021, with the proposed final standard being published in March 2022.

Healthcare unions favor OSHA’s move to establish permanent COVID-19 protections for workers.

“The pandemic is not over,” Deborah Burger, RN, president of National Nurses United, stated last month in response to OSHA’s delivering the permanent standard to the OMB. “We need a permanent standard to ensure that health care employers will protect all healthcare workers so they can do their jobs safely and so patients can get the care that they need,” she said.