Provider groups ask OSHA for more time to implement COVID-19 emergency protection standard

Providers are asking the federal government for more time to update their policies and procedures to comply with an emergency protection standard intended to help protect front-line workers.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) wrote separately to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for more time. The groups were concerned about a lack of time to submit comments and to implement procedures to comply with the emergency standard, which was advocated for by nurse unions.

“Changes in hospital policies and procedures are not simply a matter of changing words on paper; they require careful analysis and planning, the acquisition of needed materials and tools and the retraining of personnel,” warned the AHA in its letter.

The hospital group called for a delay in compliance of at least six months and another 30 days of public comment on the standard. The emergency protection standard issued by OSHA earlier this month applies to any employer that has workers in healthcare settings that treat COVID-19 patients, which includes hospital and home health workers.

These facilities need to create several new policies and procedures such as a COVID-19 plan and a designated safety coordinator to maintain compliance.

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Employers had 14 days after publication of the temporary standard in the Federal Register to comply with most of the provisions. The standard was published June 21.

The MGMA, which represents medical groups and practices, wants the standard to be pulled or at minimum a delay of the effective date.

The group says the order was issued by OSHA far too late and that providers are already meeting federal and state requirements to protect healthcare workers.

“Implementing a new layer of requirements at this late stage of the public health emergency is duplicative, confusing and will divert time and resources away from patient care,” the group’s letter to OSHA said. “Moreover, the [emergency standard] will hold physicians to a standard on which they were denied the opportunity to provide feedback, before being required to comply.”

The AHA was concerned about a part of the standard that permits employees not required to wear respirator masks to bring their own into the hospital.

“This provision will allow employers to provide respirators to employees who are not required to wear them, and without the benefit of fit-testing, medical evaluation or a written program,” the AHA’s letter said. “Many of our members have noted that these requirements, which contradict OSHA’s own [personal protective equipment] and respiratory protection standards, raise huge liability exposures for the employer and puts these employees at additional risk.”

The Department of Labor did not immediately return a request for comment on the letters or whether it will give providers more time to implement the standard.

The pushback from provider groups comes after nurses’ unions lobbied heavily for more than a year for the emergency standard amid reports of nurses having to reuse personal protective equipment.