rollator in hallway

Even without a federal COVID-19 healthcare rule to enforce, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has inspected more assisted living communities and nursing homes in the first six months of 2022 than it did for all of 2021, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis.

As of June 3, OSHA had inspected 729 assisted living communities nursing homes in 2022, compared with 442 for all of 2021, the publication reported.

Most of this year’s inspections came after the agency on March 8 announced a proposed federal COVID-19 healthcare rule that the agency said would protect assisted living and other healthcare workers from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Senior living and care advocates described the proposed rule as “overly prescriptive” and called for broader requirements and flexibility to respond to changing circumstances. The initiative closed Thursday.

OSHA told Bloomberg Law that a “high number” of inspections found employers in compliance. When citations were issued, many were for violations of respiratory protection regulations, such as having a program to provide respirators such as N95 face coverings to employees and testing the fit of the masks.

As the agency works toward a permanent regulation, many assisted living communities remain concerned with COVID compliance, Scott Hecker, a senior counsel with Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Washington, told McKnight’s Senior Living.

“Assisted living facilities were — and remain — a key sector, given the heightened risks experienced by many residents, and the potential hazards to which employees may be exposed,” Hecker said. “All our healthcare clients, and really all businesses, have faced challenges as COVID recommendations and regulations shift, overlap and conflict. These fluid circumstances hinder employers’ ability to evaluate and engage in best practices to successfully mitigate COVID risks. Conscientious businesses need enforcement agencies like OSHA to issue clear rules and to allow time for employers to develop compliant processes and protocols.”

Although OSHA’s healthcare-focused inspection initiative was designated to end June 9, Hecker said he expects that the agency will continue to pursue violations based on existing regulations. 

“OSHA plans to promulgate a permanent standard based on its expired healthcare emergency temporary standard, and we can expect the permanent standard to share significant similarities with its predecessor,” he said.