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Family blames employer for nurse's death; CT Senate advances health provider safety bill

FILE, 2023: Tracy Wodatch, from CT Association for Healthcare at Home places a candle next to a photo of Joyce Grayson during the lighting of the Candles during a vigil for Joyce Grayson at the Connecticut State Capitol’s North Lobby.
Aaron Flaum
/
Hartford Courant
FILE, 2023: Tracy Wodatch, from CT Association for Healthcare at Home places a candle next to a photo of Joyce Grayson during the lighting of the Candles during a vigil for Joyce Grayson at the Connecticut State Capitol’s North Lobby on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.

The family of Joyce Grayson, a nurse who was murdered on the job last year, says that corporate ownership of home health care may be putting workers at risk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the company, Elara Caring, this week saying they failed their legal duty to protect employees from workplace injury by not having effective measures in place to protect employees against a known hazard.

The company said in a statement to Connecticut Public Radio that the citation “is unwarranted” and it will contest it “vigorously.”

“The Grayson family is saddened that Elara Caring is going to challenge the OSHA findings, instead [of] implementing the steps that OSHA has said are required in order to protect workers going forward,” Kelly Reardon, attorney representing the Grayson family, said.

OSHA investigations concluded that Elara Caring, one of the nation’s largest home health care corporations spanning 17 states and employing 26,000 caregivers, “did not provide adequate safeguards to protect the nurse, Joyce Grayson, and other employees from the dangers of workplace violence.”

OSHA found that Elara Caring could have reduced the risk for Grayson and others in her situation by providing them with background information on patients prior to home visits, giving them emergency panic alert buttons, and using safety escorts for visits to patients with high-risk behaviors.

The company faces $163,627 in proposed penalties.

“Elara Caring failed its legal duty to protect employees from workplace injury by not having effective measures in place to protect employees against a known hazard and it cost a worker her life,” Charles D. McGrevy, OSHA area director in Hartford, said. “For its employees’ well-being, Elara must develop, implement and maintain required safeguards such as a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program.”

Reardon said a separate investigation by her law firm Reardon Law in New London found that Grayson's death was not an isolated incident.

“There were numerous complaints made by various employees of different Elara Caring entities for years leading up to her death that the conditions that they were faced with on a daily basis were not safe,” she said. “And yet they were encouraged to go back into these homes to continue to treat these patients because of the fact that that's how the company makes money.”

Elara Clearing is funded by private equity investors and is expanding through a series of acquisitions. Last year it acquired American Family Home Health, a Huntley, Illinois-based home health care provider, and American Family Home Health, a Rhode Island-based assisted daily living facility.

“When you have a gigantic company that is running a home health agency, and is purchasing home health care agencies around the country, you have to question whether the priority is protecting employees or whether it's something else like profits?” Reardon said.

She said a lawsuit will be filed within days against Elara Caring in the Superior Court in Middletown — the legal team waited until after charges were filed against Michael Reese, 39. Grayson was found dead in the basement of a halfway house on Oct. 28, 2023 when she visited Reese to administer medication.

In a separate case, Ellara caring agreed to pay $4.2 million Wednesday to settle allegations under the False Claims Act that it billed Medicare for ineligible hospice patients.

Bill to protect home health care workers clears Senate

Senate Bill 1 "An Act Concerning The Health And Safety Of Connecticut Residents," which seeks to improve on-the-job safety of home health care workers, passed by a 35-1 tally in the Senate Thursday.

"The deaths of two home care workers in late 2023 and early 2024 only underscore the dangers many of those who work to preserve and improve patient health face," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. "The actions we're taking today are in honor of the men and women who help others recover and heal in their own homes and recognize their growing role in modern health care. We're working to continually improve service and quality of care and the actions we're taking today reflect that drive."

The law will require home health care and home health aide agencies to provide information regarding patient history of violence toward health care workers, substance use, domestic abuse and violent acts or sex offender registry inclusion, as well as information regarding the safety of residences they plan to visit.

Agencies will also offer annual training to care workers to recognize hazards commonly encountered in home care workplaces, and provide a mobile app or GPS system for on-duty safety checks.

The bill awaits action in the House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.
Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.