Health Department Employees Claim Unsafe Working Conditions
Allegheny County Health Department employees continue to complain about their working conditions, claiming they are unsafe and that they are being exposed to asbestos and mold. Recent photos submitted to a local Pittsburgh news channel by the workers show mold, exposed ceilings, dust residue where vents were cleaned, and buckets set up to catch water from roof leaks. One exam room was closed off due to a leak.
Asbestos and Mold Exposure Likely
One worker claims she was told there was asbestos in the building, in the fiberglass in the tiles. She says she’s been told since 1999, when she began working for the health department that the problems would be taken care of and the building repaired and upgraded. The most recent information concerning improvements is that the health department will determine in December whether it will make improvements or sell the building and move elsewhere.
The local branch of the SEIU, Local 668, held a news conference recently stating that if it were a private business in such a state of disrepair the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would have already shut them down.
Health Department Clinic Open to Patients
This particular campus of the Allegheny County Health Department includes both administrative offices and a patient clinic. State representative Patrick Harkins points out the conditions in the building are neither suitable for workers or patients coming in from the public to receive health care.
Health department employees are taking action, demanding something be done now instead of waiting a month or more. They point out they are working in dangerous conditions and took time recently to hand out informational fliers to the public that included details about their working conditions and what patients would be exposed to if they came to the clinic for medical care.
Patients at the clinic report they haven’t noticed specific issues related to asbestos, but they do acknowledge the space has always been rundown and dirty.
Officials Respond to Claims
The health department denied the photos that have been made public are current, so workers submitted additional photos to the local news station that included the day’s newspaper to prove they were indeed up to date.
Many people, including union representatives, are trying to arrange a meeting with health department officials. In response to the complaints and the calls for a meeting, the health department’s Acting Director released a statement saying the agency is addressing decades of deferred maintenance on several facilities, including the clinic, and stating they have met several times with employees and the union over the last few months. He points out it is important for the clinic to remain open because of the services it provides to patients, and explains decisions are forthcoming concerning the long-term fate of the building.