Employee allegations of a lack of COVID-19 safety precautions at Dunwoody’s Peachford Hospital have been ruled as resolved or nonexistent by federal inspectors and a private accrediting organization. The hospital has denied having any pandemic protection problems.

The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration said in letters obtained through a public records request that it was satisfied by a response from the mental health hospital, including photos, that came over three months later without an on-site inspection, though under the threat of one.

The sign for Peachford Hospital on Peachford Road. (Google Maps)

The Joint Commission, an Illinois-based private organization that accredits hospitals, said it had “worked with the organization to satisfactorily address the concern.” But the Joint Commission would not say what that concern was or how it was addressed.

The Oct. 14 response letter to OSHA from the hospital said it “respectfully disagrees” with the complaint and that a “comprehensive approach” to dealing with the pandemic was in place.

“We believe that Peachford Hospital is responding appropriately for the type of healthcare institution that we are,” said the letter, which was signed by Clay Boyles, the hospital’s corporate compliance officer and director of human resources. “Healthcare workers are the heroes in times like these and the staff at Peachford Hospital are no exception.”

Boyles declined further comment.

Peachford is a 246-bed hospital that has operated at 2151 Peachford Road since 1973. It currently has 520 employees, according to Boyles. It is operated by Universal Health Services, a Pennsylvania-based Fortune 500 company.

Three Peachford employees who spoke to the Reporter in July 2020 on the condition of anonymity complained about pandemic safety concerns, including a lack of social distancing and mask-wearing for patients, and lack of notice about at least two patients and one staff member testing positive for COVID-19. One of those employees did not respond to a comment request about the OSHA and Joint Commission findings.

OSHA is a a federal agency that enforces worker protection laws and guidelines. According to the OSHA documents, the agency contacted the hospital July 2 about a complaint it had received from an employee whose identity was withheld. OSHA said its notice to the hospital was not a determination that any alleged hazard actually existed and was not a citation.

According to OSHA, the complaint read: “At the hospital, the staff was exposed to COVID-19 while taking care of a patient who tested positive for COVID-19. The company has not developed and implemented an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan. Two other patients are showing symptoms and employees are not been [sic] properly protected and informed.”

OSHA said the hospital was “requested to immediately investigate the alleged conditions and make any necessary corrections or modifications.” The hospital also had to post a copy of the OSHA letter and company response in a place where all employees could see it. A written response was required by July 10 or, OSHA threatened, an inspection would happen.

It is unclear from the documents why the hospital did not respond until Oct. 14. Among other points, the hospital’s letter says that personal protective equipment was in “abundant supply”; that an isolation room with controlled airflow had been created for patients with COVID-19 symptoms; and that the hospital had an “Outbreak Management” plan dating to 2010.

The same day, OSHA notified the complainant that it considered the matter resolved.

“OSHA feels the case can be closed on the grounds that the hazardous condition(s) no longer exist,” a letter said, adding the complainant had 10 business days to disagree. The OSHA files did not contain any disagreement.

As for the Joint Commission, spokesperson Katie Looze Bronk would only say that its Office of Quality and Patient Safety reviewed a “patient safety concern” related to pandemic guidelines. “We will continue to monitor and address any new patient safety concerns,” Bronk said.

The Joint Commission is a private nonprofit organization without any regulatory powers, but its accrediting process is influential in the healthcare industry.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.