Coronavirus: Weeks before Christmas outbreak, Kaiser San Jose fined $85,000 for violations

SAN JOSE — A month before Kaiser Permanente came under fire for failing to report a deadly Christmas Day coronavirus outbreak at its San Jose medical center, the health care giant was fined more than $85,000, in part for keeping quiet when one of its employees was hospitalized for a week with COVID-19 early in the pandemic.

And while the outbreak was spreading through the San Jose emergency department in late December, Kaiser’s sister hospital in Antioch was fined $56,000 on Dec. 28 for repeatedly failing to report employees falling ill with the virus.

Kaiser denied the allegations on Monday and said it is appealing.

Kaiser’s San Jose facility has been under intense scrutiny since it issued a news release on Jan. 3 saying that 44 employees of its Emergency Department had tested positive for coronavirus and one worker had died. It suggested that a well-meaning employee, dressed in an air-powered inflatable tree costume Christmas morning, may have been a superspreader — a possibility that is still being investigated. The number of sick employees has since grown to at least 60.

Santa Clara County officials say the news release was the first the public health department heard about the outbreak and slapped the hospital with the $43,000 fine last week, $1,000 for each original case it failed to immediately report.

A photo obtained by NBC Bay Area shows the inflatable Christmas tree costume worn by an employee in the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center on Christmas Day. (Courtesy of NBC Bay Area) 

The allegations that led to the string of fines against the hospital network infuriated Jori Buriani, a dental hygienist who says she was an ER patient at Kaiser San Jose on Christmas morning and was never notified — like other patients have been — of the exposure. She says she never saw the tree and was discharged just before 9 a.m., roughly the time the woman in the tree costume made her appearance. Still, she said, she tested positive for coronavirus last week — about 11 days after Christmas — as did her husband.

“It makes me sick. I have had Kaiser my whole life and I have defended them to anyone who has trash-talked them,” said Buriani, 53. “And now that all these violations are coming out, it blows my mind.”

In a statement Monday, the hospital network emphasized that the state penalties at the San Jose hospital stemmed from claims made last spring when the virus was new and regulations were constantly evolving.

“Importantly, they have absolutely nothing to do with what may have occurred at Kaiser Permanente San Jose on Dec. 25,” Kaiser said.

Still, Cal/OSHA, the state agency that oversees workplace safety and levied the $85,000 fine against Kaiser San Jose, said Monday it is also investigating “subsequent illnesses and complaints” at the south San Jose hospital.

In an interview last week, Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith said that Kaiser had an explanation for not reporting the cases right away: “From their perspective, they misunderstood.”

Kaiser did not explain why it …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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