Several nurses that work in the McLaren Macomb Emergency Room in Mount Clemens, MI are blowing the whistle on what they see as deplorable working conditions. They recently shared their views on the facility in an anonymous interview, fearing possible retaliation. They depict a nightmare situation that would send shivers down the spine of any nurse. Their testimony has led to a sweeping investigation by the Joint Commission’s Office of Quality and Patient Safety, the country’s largest standards-setting and accrediting body in healthcare.
Shocking Revelations About the Macomb ER
Several nurses who work in the ER told a local news organization about their experiences on the floor while dealing with the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the Michigan area.
“I think that the public should know what is happening to their healthcare heroes, to their frontline workers. It’s appalling,” said one McLaren Macomb emergency department nurse that wishes to remain anonymous.
“Would you send a family member to McLaren Macomb?” A second nurse asked rhetorically. “No, never. I even tell my friends not to go there because I know they’re not taking the precautions that are necessary to keep the patients safe.”
They offered an exclusive look inside the facility, which recently completed a $68 million renovation project. But that doesn’t mean the ER is up to code. The nurses say the space is filled with overflowing trash cans, soiled linens, and filthy patient bathrooms.
“It is very dirty, it is not clean, it is not being sanitized,” the first nurse said. “We have two housekeepers on the day shift for a massive emergency department. After 3pm, I believe that one housekeeper is shared for most of the hospital.”
And that’s not enough to keep the facility clean. The nurses added that they sometimes call for a housekeeper, but no one shows up to clean the rooms. They say they don’t have time to clean up after patients while administering care.
This lack of hygiene can also help spread the coronavirus. “It’s not being wiped down the way it should be, or bleached, nothing,” said the second nurse. “It’s terrifying because someone could be coming in for abdominal pain, and they’re going to be leaving with COVID.”
The Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) doesn’t represent the providers on staff at the McLaren Macomb ER, but the organization issued a statement supporting the fact that nurses shouldn’t be responsible for cleaning rooms:
“Nurses are committed to being team players with many other health care professionals and support staff, and many times they pitch in to contain infectious substances and to keep patient care areas free from waste. However, it would be an expected model of care to have designated environmental services professionals who are trained in disinfection and environmental hygiene policies for the institution to be the lead on cleaning patient care areas. Nurses do not have training in surface disinfection, nor do they have the availability to dedicate the time needed for these important practices,” said Larissa Miller, Associate Executive Director of Nursing Education, Practice & Research and Government Affairs for the MNA.
Investigating Dangerous Working Conditions
The allegations made by the nurses has led to an investigation by the Joint Commission’s Office of Quality and Patient Safety. However, this isn’t the first time the McLaren Macomb ER has been flagged for unsafe working conditions. The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) is currently investigating the facility over similar complaints.
Since the start of the pandemic, MIOSHA has investigated nine complaints related to the McLaren Macomb ER. The LARA’s Bureau of Community & Health Services, a state agency that issues licenses to hospitals, has received 29 complaints about the facility since March of last year. Of those 29 complaints, 26 were either closed without a violation or referred to another state agency, but three remain open.
The nurses on staff also say that the facility has denied them sick leave, even as cases rise across most of Michigan. “We’re told it was likely community acquired, when I know I was directly caring for COVID patients,” said the second nurse.
McLaren Macomb CEO Tom Brisse said in a statement, “Workers’ Disability Compensation is designed for employees experiencing a work-related illness or injury. As COVID-19 has infiltrated our communities, we’re finding that most cases are generated in the community and cannot be attributed to hospital exposure,” leaving nurses to fend for themselves. None of the nurses on staff have received sick leave or hazard pay since the start of the pandemic.
“It’s just such a slap in the face to be called a hero, and then when you get sick and you need the help from your employer,” said the second nurse, referring to her lack of benefits.
They add that denying workers sick leave could incentivize people to come in for work when they are feeling under the weather. “Why should a healthcare worker on the front lines tell the truth if they know that they’re not going to be compensated for any time off? How are they going to pay their bills?” the nurse added.
Administrators of the facility also pushed back against the nurses’ claims that the ER is not clean, saying every room is disinfected on a regular basis. The hospital also alleges that the nurses are making these claims to build support ahead of the nurses’ contract negotiations scheduled for this summer, but the whistleblowers deny this.
“When you have risked your life on the front line and the lives of your family, and your employer could care less if you live or die, it makes you feel terrible. I’ve questioned whether or not I even want to be a nurse,” said one of the nurses.
No one should have to work in these conditions. If the nurses’ allegations turn out to be true, the McLaren Macomb ER could face a serious penalty.