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Should OSHA nurse injury probe expand to include illnesses?

The nursing professionals who deliver care in the hospitals of Texas and the rest of the country could probably be counted among the greatest of unsung heroes. And those in federally run hospital systems, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs operation, rank right up there with the rest.

There are times when the scan of public attention seems to force long-overdue action. For example, we posted last month about how a National Public Radio review of the high rate of work-related injuries among nurses has prompted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to launch a nation-wide investigation. The objective, says OSHA, is to reduce debilitating nurse injuries caused by lifting and moving patients by hand by promoting wider adoption of lifting assistance machines.

Interestingly, the VA hospital system is identified in that story as a league leader in addressing this issue, even though not every VA facility is diligent in adopting standards that have been set. And though lifting injuries are a serious concern, there could well be other threats that VA workers face that deserve some attention, such as instances of occupational disease.

This comes to mind because of a story out of Florida. A VA benefits worker in St. Petersburg says she is suffering chronic health problems due to long-term exposure to mold fostered by a leaky roof at work. Since first succumbing to a life-threatening asthma attack in 2012, she now relies on an array of medical treatments and drugs just to breathe.

She currently can't work but isn't getting paid because she has used up all her medical leave. What's worse, her regular health insurance doesn't cover her problems and while she is approved for federal workers' compensation, she can't find a doctor in Florida who will accept the low reimbursement rates offered by the program.

Perhaps OSHA should do something about resolving the work environment issues at the VA facility that worker union leaders say have affected not just this woman, but dozens of employees.

Source: WFTS-TV, "VA Employee sickened by mold says Federal Workers' Comp Insurance won't cover her medical needs," Adam Walser, July 31, 2015

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