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Hartford HealthCare Faces Federal Fines For Alleged Violations At Natchaug Hospital

Joe Amon
Connecticut Public/NENC

A psychiatric facility in eastern Connecticut has been cited by federal workplace safety inspectors for alleged safety violations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed around $13,500 in penalties for Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield.

In the citation, OSHA alleges Natchaug administrators failed to properly log eight work-related cases of COVID-19 dating back to March.

The federal agency also said workers at Natchaug were not given proper N95 facial masks despite being asked to care for patients suspected of having COVID-19.

Natchaug is a partner in Hartford HealthCare’s behavioral health network. A spokesperson for Hartford HealthCare declined Wednesday to say whether the network would challenge the citations.

But in a written statement, Hartford HealthCare Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Ajay Kumar said, “We are disappointed with these findings … Natchaug Hospital is a leading mental health and addiction services provider. Patients there rarely require medical assessments and medical care. When they do, they are typically sent to nearby hospitals which specialize in that type of care.”

According to an OSHA citation dated Sept. 8, however, that was not always the case. 

“On, or about, April 25, 2020, employees who provided direct care to a suspect COVID-19 patient were not provided adequate respiratory protection and were potentially exposed to SARS-CoV-2 virus,” the citation states.

“Appropriate respiratory protection is an N95 filtering facepiece. The employees were required to be within six feet of the patient to perform tasks such as obtaining vital signs and providing personal care. The patient was not wearing a mask.”

Investigators note a similar incident in the hospital’s adolescent unit on or about May 12.

“Hartford HealthCare failed to have a policy. A respiratory policy. And then they failed to just take adequate protection to protect these workers,” said John Brady, a registered nurse and vice president at AFT Connecticut, which represents workers at Natchaug Hospital.  

As Connecticut Public initially reported, AFT filed an OSHA complaint against Natchaug management in May, saying policies at the facility were putting the lives of patients and staff at risk.

Kumar said the network has “fully implemented” a respiratory protection program and denied that Natchaug had a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

“As part of our ongoing efforts to promote safety and protection, Natchaug Hospital always had adequate supply of PPE,” Kumar said.

Jennifer Pratt, a psychiatric inpatient nurse at Natchaug Hospital, said in a written statement released through AFT that the citations represented a vindication for health care workers and patients. 

“These citations don’t just validate the safety concerns we raised for ourselves and our colleagues,” said Pratt. “They reinforce the value of nurses advocating for our patients beyond the bedside. Speaking out for safe working conditions is a responsibility that we take seriously. It’s a role for which we have the full backing of our local, state and national unions; something all caregivers deserve.”

Hartford HealthCare has until next week to challenge the citation or pay roughly $13,500 in fines.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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