Sutter Health faces lawsuit from employees over 'corrosive' cleanser

The Sacramento-based health care company saved 'millions of dollars' at the expense of their workers, says lawsuit

Sutter Health faces lawsuit from employees over 'corrosive' cleanser

Sutter Health staff have filed a lawsuit against the company after being exposed to a cleanser that was “so noxious that dozens of employees have reported illnesses after using it.”

The Sacramento-based health care company experienced high rates of diarrhea-causing germ infection in its hospitals, which led to the procurement of the cleanser, Ecolab’s “OxyCide,” according to the lawsuit filed in Alameda Court. The company alleged it was cheaper than the two-step cleaning process that its staff previously used and saved “millions of dollars” in costs, the lawsuit stated.

Among the suit's allegations is that an employee’s exposure to the cleanser led to reactive airways disease, a condition that occurs when a person's bronchial tubes overreact to an irritant and complicate breathing, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. Following similar incidents, 140 workers signed a petition against use of the product. 

Sutter Health “wrote off the harm as ‘user error’ and put the workers through re-training,” saying “the product was essentially harmless,” the lawsuit stated. Furthermore, the company didn’t stop using the product “when confronted with its effects.”

Read more: California to reinstate paid COVID-19 sick leave

In a report published by The Sacramento Bee, Sutter Health said the “health and safety of [its] employees [are] the company’s highest priority” and that its leaders are “proud of efforts being taken by affiliates to reduce hospital-acquired infections.”

“We disagree with the claims in the lawsuit or that it accurately characterizes our affiliates’ efforts to watch out for the health and safety of our employees and patients. We feel confident in our position in this case and will continue our emphasis on patient and employee safety,” Sutter Health said in its statement.

Meanwhile, a Yale-trained internist Dr. Sophie Cole commented that “safety should be a major concern” for OxyCide because “it is corrosive to the eyes, the skin and the respiratory tract,” The Sacramento Bee reported. “Inappropriate exposure” can lead to “cough, labored breathing, shortness of breath and burns to the eyes,” Cole added.

The lawsuit alleges that Sutter Health “maintained that OxyCide is safe in [its] communications with environmental services workers, even though they knew it was not.”

“The company wanted savings achieved from [the] use of the product but also wanted to eliminate hospital-acquired infections as possible because Medicare does not cover the cost of treating those illnesses,” the lawsuit said in the same report.

Erickson Kramer Osborne LLP of San Francisco filed the lawsuit, seeking class-action status to represent 1,800 environmental services workers. The case has yet to be scheduled for trial.

Sutter Health consists of a network of doctors and hospitals serving more than 100 communities in Northern California.

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