This story was updated on Jan. 19 at 4:13 p.m.
The Montefiore Medical Center has been levied with roughly $17,000 in citations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for exposing its employees to a violent workplace atmosphere that included several incidences of Montefiore staff being assaulted by patients and a lack of safeguards for employees in the Pediatric Emergency Department at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore.
Montefiore was notified of the federal violations on Dec. 22, 2021, and submitted a notice to contest the violations to OSHA. The matter will be forwarded to an independent review board.
Montefiore officials did not comment on the findings of the OSHA investigation when asked for comment, but in a statement said that “the health and safety of our staff and patients are always our highest priority.”
OSHA’s findings stem from a June 9 investigation they conducted of Montefiore’s 3415 Bainbridge Ave. location in the Norwood section of the Bronx in response to dozens of workplace safety and staffing complaints filed by the hospital’s nurses, with the backing of the state’s nursing union, this past year.
According to their report, OSHA found that Montefiore employees — including nurses, assistants, technicians and security personnel — dealt with a pattern of physical assaults from violent patients that occurred during one-on-one patient observations, and in attempts to restraint violent patients, workers suffered broken bones, bites and neck, back and shoulder injuries.
Additionally, according to the findings of the report, those injuries caused some employees to incur lost work time. OSHA officials told the Bronx Times on Tuesday that Montefiore’s workplace violence prevention program was “inadequate” and that Montefiore administrators failed to protect workers against recurring patterns of violence, even after staff began levying workplace safety concerns internally and externally last year.
“This employer ignored repeated episodes of physical assault that put their employees at risk,” said OSHA Area Director Robert T. Garvey in a statement. “Employers can and must reduce workplace violence hazards by implementing and maintaining an effective workplace violence prevention program, which is an essential safeguard for these essential workers.”
Montefiore was cited with a proposed penalty of $13,653, for not providing a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. Two other violations, which carry proposed penalties of $3,902, are for what the agency cited as incomplete, inaccurate and untimely injury and illness incident reports.
Members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) told the Bronx Times that understaffing has been an evergreen issue dating back to before the COVID-19 pandemic with administrators failing to address an estimated 390-plus vacancies in the Montefiore Moses, Montefiore Weiler and Montefiore Children’s Hospital locations.
The shortage of staffing, nurses said, led to lack of safeguards for employees.
According to NYSNA, Montefiore has 393 posted and vacant positions, and 261 more vacant positions that are not being recruited for at all. In the three hospitals’ emergency departments alone, there are 81 vacancies.
But this isn’t the first time Montefiore has been hit with occupational violations from the federal agency.
In 2003, Montefiore was cited for other workplace health hazard regulations that failed to comply with federal regulations and standards for use of syringes, needles and scalpels. At the time, OSHA found 46 instances of unsafe practices under the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard and fined the institution a total of $9,000 in total.
Montefiore had until Tuesday to address the serious violations for “recognized hazards,” and until Jan. 27 to address the two less-than-serious violations.
To address safety measures, OSHA recommends Montefiore administrators employ 24-hour closed-circuit surveillances in all areas of the hospital, identify potential gaps in its workplace violence policies and strengthen security parameters within its hospital wings.
New York state officials hope a change to state law that requires every hospital in the state to establish minimum staffing standards for intensive and critical care units can help alleviate the dire need for staffing. Senate Bill 1168 requires certain facilities establish clinical staffing committees in an effort to improve worker and patient safety, and reduce workplace injuries. While the nurses acknowledge it will help with transparency with staffing levels, they say it won’t force hospitals to hire more nurses.
Montefiore Medical Center’s health system consists of 15 hospitals as well as a primary and specialty care network of more than 180 locations across Westchester County, the lower Hudson Valley and the Bronx.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.