Murphy indicates he could make info on COVID outbreaks among hospital staff public - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Murphy indicates he could make info on COVID outbreaks among hospital staff public

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By By Lindy Washburn and Dustin Racioppi

December 7, 2020

The Murphy administration may step in to force hospitals to report COVID-19 outbreaks among staff as legislation requiring the public disclosure remains stalled in the state capital.

Hospitals have so far evaded the same detailed reporting requirements of nursing homes and schools during the pandemic. But with the second wave of the coronavirus threatening to deplete the state’s health care work force, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that he is “100%” in favor of transparency and it is something his staff is working on.

“I can’t promise you executive action,” Murphy said. “That’s something we’re very seriously looking at. Folks have a right to know what’s going on.”

Later Monday, the state hospital association said it would support the now-stalled measure, pending in the Assembly, that “calls for a transparent reporting process for hospital workers infected with the COVID-19 virus.”

Public posting of information about hospital outbreaks will help “residents of this state feel confident seeking medically necessary care at our facilities,” said Cathleen Bennett, president of the association, which represents 71 acute-care hospitals. The association had added its support to A4129, she said.

But to this point neither the state nor hospitals have offered details on recent outbreaks among staff, which generally mean three positive COVID-19 cases that have a “clear link.”

In the past several weeks, outbreaks have sickened more than 100 health care workers at Ocean Medical Center in Brick, sidelined between 30 and 40 employees of Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen and infected hospital workers at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune.

Murphy’s comments came a day after a story by The Record and outlining the lack of data on hospital outbreaks, and just hours after unionized health care workers pressed for the passage of a bill to require that hospitals report to the state positive cases, hospitalizations and COVID deaths among staff members.

That bill was introduced shortly after the first wave subsided and passed unanimously in the Senate, but it has made no progress in the Assembly even after the arrival of the second wave of COVID cases this fall.

A primary sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman William Spearman, and the Assembly majority office did not respond to messages last week about the delay.

“We are now nine months into this pandemic and we still don’t know the number of sick hospital workers,” said Debbie White, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, with 14,000 members. “It’s outrageous.”

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