This story is breaking and will be updated.
Seven pharmacy workers at the Kaiser Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro were diagnosed with COVID-19.
Kaiser Permanente confirmed the illness of seven employees today and closed the ambulatory part of the pharmacy – the same day, The Oregonian / OregonLive inquired about the new escape of the coronavirus.
The first pharmacy worker fell ill “about four weeks ago,” said a pharmacy technician, who commented on the condition of remaining anonymous for fear of losing his job. “Since then, we have fallen like flies. “
It is unclear whether employees or customers have been informed by Kaiser Permanente Northwest, which operates Kaiser Westside. Three employees interviewed by The Oregonian / OregonLive said they had never been.
Kaiser has made a significant change to the way he serves his customers at the facility, recently switching to sidewalk service only so that customers no longer have to go to the pharmacy.
“The safety of our patients and our staff is our top priority,” said Kaiser’s statement provided by spokesperson Michael Foley. “After the identification of an initial staff member, other employees of the pharmacy were closely monitored, including daily temperature checks, and employees with symptoms were asked to isolate themselves from the same at home. “
“The ambulatory pharmacy at the Kaiser Westside Medical Center was closed today, and several additional steps have been taken to improve the safety of patients and clinicians,” the statement said.
The escape from the Kaiser Pharmacy raises thorny legal questions about an employer’s duty to inform his employees. Courtney Angeli, a prominent Portland employment lawyer, cited wording from the Occupational Health and Safety Act that requires employers to provide workplaces “free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm ”.
“While an employer has a duty under disability discrimination laws not to disclose medical information he learns about a particular employee, he also has a duty to maintain a workplace safe under national and federal laws, “said Angeli. employees who have been tested positive for COVID-19 by several of their colleagues appear to be incompatible with this obligation. ”
The likelihood of healthcare workers contracting the highly contagious virus is a major concern for federal and state officials trying to cope with the pandemic. The number of positive COVID-19 health workers in the largest hospitals in Oregon and southwest Washington was at least 57 on Friday.
But as the Kaiser Pharmacy illustrates, you don’t have to stand over a critically ill patient in the emergency room to catch the virus.
The Kaiser facility is not your garden pharmacy in a suburban mall. This is the internal pharmacy of the Kaiser’s Westside Medical Center, a hospital with more than 120 beds. On a busy day, its 23 employees can fulfill a thousand orders.
When the first colleagues at the Kaiser pharmacy fell ill with the virus, employees assumed that the store would be closed and that they would be on leave. But that never happened. In fact, according to the employees, Kaiser never alerted them to the epidemic.
“The only reason we know is that our colleagues who have the virus told us,” said one of the employees.
None of the employees at the Kaiser Pharmacy have died from the virus. Most were not hospitalized. About 80% of people with COVID-19 do not fall seriously ill. For the remaining 20%, especially those with underlying health conditions, it can be more serious and even fatal.
The first employee of the Kaiser Westside pharmacy made several attempts to get tested for COVID-19, said his three colleagues. Kaiser resisted until the employee had a fever. The test came back positive and she was sent home.
Workers are now wondering how many days their co-worker said he worked when he was contagious.
Shortly after this first positive case, the employees obtained permission to wear surgical masks. Although paper masks offer little protection against the virus, employees reasoned, at least it would limit their ability to spread the virus to others.
A few hours later, Kaiser reversed himself. No masks allowed. Employees still do not know what motivated the change.
Today, Kaiser announced the closure of the pharmacy outpatient clinic. Spokesman Foley said it was part of a larger plan to limit access to the hospital.
Kaiser said he was working with Local 555 of United Food and Commercial Workers and the Guild for Professional Pharmacists to determine the best way to “provide intensive care to our members and the safest conditions for our employees and clinicians “