A scuffle over disclosing COVID outbreaks in hospitals
New Jersey’s largest health-care workers’ union is questioning why the state isn’t requiring hospitals to report COVID-19 outbreaks – but is now considering a bill that would fine workers if they don’t disclose one at any second or third jobs they may have.
Debbie White, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, called the bill egregious.
“It’s a punitive measure and it puts the onus on the wrong people for reporting data. Hospital systems should be reporting the data, not the workers,” White said.
Under the bill, health care workers could be fined $1,000 and lose their professional license for a month if they don’t tell their employers every facility where they work and whether it has an infectious disease outbreak.
Dr. Stavros Christoudias, chair of the New Jersey Doctor Patient Alliance, said that would be punitive and ineffective, as health care workers wouldn’t necessarily have information about COVID infections.
“I think the last thing and the last message you want to send to those people under the tremendous strain they’re under now is a threat.”
Sen. Bob Singer, R-Ocean, said the goal of the bill is information sharing to stop the spread of COVID-19, not harming employees, and that he’ll work with critics on possible amendments.
“All this bill is trying to be saying it is the obligation of the employer to know from the employee that they work in other facilities,” Singer said. “And if there’s a known outbreak that they certainly notify their employer that there’s a problem there.”
The Senate unanimously passed a bill in July requiring health care facilities to report COVID-19 cases among workers and first responders – but four months later, it hasn’t budged in the Assembly.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said she doesn’t know why it’s held up but that Gov. Phil Murphy should issue an executive order to make the data public if the delay continues.
“I would like somebody from one of these institutions or from other sponsors as to what the logical reasoning is behind holding hospitals aside as opposed to giving us statistics from nursing homes and schools and all the other places that we get these statistics from,” Weinberg said.
Murphy said he would be a “hundred percent” in favor of transparency around COVID-19 outbreaks in hospitals. He said he can’t promise he’d take executive action but that he and chief counsel Parimal Garg were in a meeting on the topic Monday.
“That's something we're very seriously looking at. Folks have a right to know what's going on,” Murphy said.
Barbara Rosen, the HPAE’s first vice president, said it’s important that the state begins disclosing hospital workers’ infections and outbreaks on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
“It’s time for the Department of Health to mandate the healthcare worker data be taken out of hiding and implement a scientific approach to the reporting, tracking and tracing of healthcare workers,” Rosen said.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.