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OSHA finds 'serious' health violations at Martinsburg VA hospital

Violations related to removal of mold from rooms in 2006

Violations related to removal of mold from rooms in 2006

January 09, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Martinsburg was issued a notice of "Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions" last month after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found three health and safety violations in a November 2007 inspection, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Two of the violations were "serious" according to the notice, which was issued Dec. 27, 2007, by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), according to a copy of a document posted at the medical center off Charles Town Road east of Martinsburg. The hospital has until Jan. 24 to fix the serious violations, unless it requests an informal conference with the U.S. Department of Labor within 15 days of receiving the notice.

"We don't discuss these inspections until they are closed," Prentice Cline, OSHA's assistant area director based in Charleston, W.Va., said Tuesday.

Medical center spokeswoman Barbara B. Corbin admitted the hospital was in violation of OSHA protocols and was "following up" to comply with laws meant to protect employees' health and safety.

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"This is an issue that we are very, very concerned about, and we want to do the right thing," Corbin said Tuesday.

Corbin confirmed that OSHA's allegations were to some degree related to the hospital's removal of mold from two mechanical rooms discovered in October 2006.

Corbin said the hospital spent $71,000 on mold abatement in two mechanical rooms and related costs.

The rooms are near the equipment that sterilizes instruments used in the operating room of the hospital, Corbin said.

"In order to remove the mold, access to this equipment was limited," and some procedures in the operating room were canceled, Corbin said in an e-mail response to an inquiry made in September 2007. Other equipment was sterilized off-campus, she said.

When inspected Nov. 20 and Nov. 21, 2007, OSHA officials allege they found conditions indicating the hospital did not ensure certain employees could demonstrate knowledge of the limitations of respirators they are to use when exposed to hazards such as paint vapors, mold/fungi and tuberculosis, according to the notice.

"The employer has not provided employees with sufficient training and information on respirators to ensure they are aware of the limitations of their respirator cartridges or respirator types," according to the OSHA notice.

OSHA officials also alleged that hospital employees required to wear respiratory protection when exposed to previously mentioned hazards, along with drywall dust and TB isolation rooms, were not given an "odor threshold test," a step to ensure a respirator mask fits properly.

Corbin said mold also was found near ice machines and mechanical rooms.

"When discovered, the areas were contained. Remediation and abatement projects were promptly developed and implemented," Corbin said in September.

Corbin said then that a few employees had expressed concern about the mold problem and the hospital was addressing their concerns on an individual basis.

"We have increased environment of care surveillance rounds throughout the Medical Center where mold may be present, e.g., in mechanical rooms, near ice machines, and other high moisture areas," Corbin said in the e-mail.

"Mold abatement projects have been completed and an aggressive inspection program to proactively address any potential sources of mold is in place," she said in the e-mail.

A third OSHA-issued violation in the notice faulted the hospital for failing to provide employees with timely access to their medical records.

"A request for access to medical records of employees included in the asbestos exposure medical surveillance program was made .... on November 5, 2007," according to the OSHA notice, which was posted near the medical center's gift shop on the main floor.

Corbin said she believed the hospital did, in fact, miss a deadline, in responding to the records request, but noted letters ultimately were sent to affected employees in late November.

OSHA gave the hospital until today to abate the records release violation.

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