RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) — Three unionized workers from Riverside Community Hospital and the daughter of an employee who died after contracting COVID-19 have filed suit against the facility, lawyers announced Thursday.
The civil suit, filed in Riverside County Superior Court, alleges that the hospital increased infection dangers by failing to provide adequate personal protective equipment for workers, telling sick workers to stay on the job and dropping sanitation procedures in exchange for increased productivity.
“All of us as healthcare workers know we face higher risks in a hospital environment where we work in close proximity to patients suffering from COVID-19, but this hospital and its parent company didn’t follow CDC guidelines and didn’t seem to care about our safety or the safety of our patients,” Gladys Reyes, one of the plaintiffs, said.
Reyes, who works as a lab assistant and phlebotomist, said she tested positive for the virus in June.
“I was told I didn’t need a second COVID-19 test before returning to work in July, even though I still had symptoms,” she said. “I took one anyway and tested positive.”
Reyes said she was never hospitalized for treatment.
Vanessa Campos, the only plaintiff who does not work at the hospital, said hearing stories from employees about the lack of PPE is disheartening, especially because her mother was one of the two hospital workers who died after contracting COVID-19.
“How do you expect people to put their lives on the line and work through a pandemic if they’re not being prioritized,” she said. “She felt like she had to speak up, but her words fell on deaf ears with management.”
Representatives from HCA Healthcare, which owns and operates RCH, responded to the suit in a statement, asserting that the health and safety of its workers was a top priority “so they can best care for our patients.”
“Any suggestion otherwise ignores the extensive work, planning and training we have done to ensure the delivery of high-quality care during this pandemic,” according to the statement. “Our frontline caregivers have shown unwavering commitment and tremendous sacrifice, and our safety efforts have included testing of colleagues, universal masking and other safeguards, in line with guidance from the CDC.
“We’re proud of our response and the significant resources we’ve deployed to help keep our colleagues safe,” the statement continued. “This lawsuit is an attempt for the union to gain publicity, and we will defend it vigorously.”
All three plaintiffs are members of United Healthcare Workers, a component of the Service Employees International Union, which has been at odds with RCH in recent years. A new collective bargaining agreement was settled and signed earlier this summer.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damage awards and other remedies.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)