October 03, 2022
The sorry state of America’s federal prisons was in full display at a Sept. 29 congressional hearing where AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Shane Fausey testified.
As a result of the complaints filed by an AFGE local in Indianapolis, Ind., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Sept. 8 issued three citations against a Veterans Affairs hospital for its failure to protect employees against the coronavirus.
AFGE applauds AFGE Local 609 for looking out for members and veterans, and OSHA for issuing citations against the Department of Veteran Affairs DBA Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. These are the first COVID-related citations OSHA has issued in the federal sector. To date, OSHA has issued less than a handful of COVID-related citations in the private sector.
“We expect the Indianapolis VA to take corrective action,” said AFGE President Everett Kelley. “We will keep up our efforts to protect all workers from exposure to the novel coronavirus and continue to advocate for an OSHA standard on COVID-19.”
“We are glad that OSHA agrees that it isn’t enough to just give out masks and claim that you have sufficient PPE,” said AFGE Health and Safety Specialist Milly Rodriguez. “The VA is required to make sure the PPE is appropriate, that it fits, and that employees know how to use them.”
The citations at the Indianapolis VA are in sharp contrast to the public picture VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has painted. He has repeatedly claimed that there have never been PPE shortages at VA facilities since the coronavirus pandemic began.
In addition to the issues mentioned in the citations, Local 609 President Teri James said employees are concerned about the “open COVID unit” -- there are no walls or barriers to keep COVID rooms closed off from other patient rooms that are only a few feet away.
“Staff working in COVID rooms are also free to walk around the entire ward -- just take off the gown, mask, gloves, sanitize hands, and you’re free to walk the unit,” James explained. “This COVID unit used to be completely closed off with only one entrance and a check point. No longer.”
Need to report shortages of PPE or file a COVID-related OSHA complaint?
Staff needed to move patients to other hospitals and get the grounds ready for the storm that was projected to be the region’s strongest on record.
This op-ed by AFGE President Everett Kelley was published in The Hill on Sept. 28, 2022.