For nearly a month, workers at four of Kaiser Permanente's Portland-area hospitals have complained to state officials that unsafe practices have exposed them to the COVID-19 virus as the outbreak spread through the region.
Since Feb. 28, when Gov. Kate Brown announced the first COVID-19 case in the state, Kaiser workers have lodged at least 15 complaints with Oregon Occupational Safety & Health, also known as Oregon OSHA, according to records obtained by WW.
Other regional hospitals, like Providence and Oregon Health & Science University, prompted less than five complaints, according to the dataset.
Kaiser Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro treated the state's first official COVID-19 case. On March 2, that hospital quarantined dozens of nurses and other frontline workers who may have been exposed to the virus. That same day, employees in the Kaiser system started complaining to OSHA, which monitors workplace safety.
The complaints from Kaiser employees indicate a pattern: Since March 2, the workers told the state, they have not had enough personal protective equipment to protect them from exposure to the coronavirus.
"There are less than 10 N95 masks in the building and only certain doctors and a few RNs get them," says a complaint filed by a Kaiser Beaverton employee on March 2. "They are almost out of regular masks for patients and employees, and there are virtually no surgical masks. There are not enough gowns."
On the same day at the same hospital, two more employees filed similar complaints:
"Possible exposure to COVID-19 from a family member of the patient, who was in the waiting room and coughing. Procedure was done by physician as it was considered low risk," another Beaverton employee's complaint says.
"No medium respirators available," another March 3 complaint says.
In a statement to WW, Kaiser spokesman Mike Foley said the hospital system is using PPE according to guidelines from the Oregon Health Authority and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We have the PPE we need right now to take care of patients and protect staff," Foley said. "The primary actions we have taken to preserve PPE are to reduce non-urgent medical and dental care. This has included closing many dental clinics and medical office buildings and converting appointments to virtual where that is appropriate."
But the complaints range across the Kaiser system.
At the Kaiser dental office in Tigard, an employee told OSHA on March 3 there was no ventilation in the building, and that frontline health care workers did not have access to proper PPE: "Employer refused to allow fit-test for respirators. Eight to 10 employees exposed," the complaint says.
A week later, on March 10, a worker at Kaiser Sunnyside told OSHA they believed dozens of employees had been exposed to the virus.
"No access to N95 mask for years in the emergency department," the complaint says. "Over 100 staff members exposed to COVID-19."
That same day, another employee at Kaiser Sunnyside complained that management was not providing sufficient equipment.
"Employees have not been provided with the proper equipment for COVID-19 outbreak," the complaint says. "Union and management have not been cooperative. Approximately 200 employees work in the emergency room at [Kaiser Sunnyside]."
At Kaiser Westside in Hillsboro, an employee complained March 4 to OSHA that a confirmed COVID patient snuck into the facility through the basement.
"Second confirmed case of COVID-19 patient was snuck into the westside facility to see her husband who also has COVID-19. She was snuck in through the basement dock and escorted to the ICU, and later snuck out of the building," the complaint says. "Employees were not wearing proper PPE. Employer did not communicate with employees about the situation."
Oregon OHSA has not resolved the complaints. The agency is inundated with complaints from workers. A summary of those complaints, including some of the allegations against Kaiser, were reported by the Portland Tribune today.
Statewide, 102 Oregon residents have been hospitalized for COVID-19, data from the Oregon Health Authority shows. Four hundred fourteen have tested positive for the virus as of Friday afternoon. Twelve have died.