The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has finalized a draft of a COVID-19 permanent standard that aims to protect healthcare workers from exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Long-term care advocates have said such a move isn’t necessary when facilities are already following COVID-19 mitigation measures.
After months spent collecting stakeholder input, the agency late last week sent the draft standard to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for review — the last step in the process before a rule is released. Details have yet to be unveiled, but a prior temporary standard required employers to maintain infection prevention and control programs, provide paid leave to encourage vaccination and track COVID-19 cases.
LTC opposition and union support
A permanent standard has been in the works since a temporary version expired in December 2021. But clinician and long-term care groups have opposed this as burdensome, noting that they are already complying with similar guidance from states and other federal agencies.
In a joint letter sent in August 2021, the leaders of AHCA/NCAL, Argentum, LeadingAge and others said the standard “adds a layer of confusion and interferes with the abilities of professionals to make good, clinical decisions.”
Healthcare unions, meanwhile, support OSHA’s move to establish permanent COVID-19 protections for workers.
“The pandemic is not over,” Deborah Burger, RN, president of National Nurses United stated in response to OSHA’s delivering a permanent standard to the OMB. “We need a permanent standard to ensure that health care employers will protect all healthcare workers so they can do their jobs safely and so patients can get the care that they need,” she said.
In June of 2021, OSHA asked for public comment after publishing an interim final rule that it said would “protect healthcare and healthcare support service workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 in settings where people with COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present.”
It stopped enforcing that rule in December 2021, briefly reopening its record to comments in March 2022.