Aura Berciano-Reyes has worked as a housekeeper at the Wyndham Boston Beacon Hill for nearly two decades. The hotel, located just a few blocks from Massachusetts General Hospital, offers discounts to patients at nearby medical facilities and attracts a steady stream of people who are recovering from procedures or receiving outpatient treatment.
More than once, said Berciano-Reyes, she has “cleaned up blood in the morning and used the same gloves to clean the rest of the rooms.” Her employer, one of 41 large hotels nationwide owned by real estate investment trust FelCor, didn't reliably provide gloves or other protective equipment, she said. At times, she has used dishwashing gloves she’d purchased herself.
Her husband, José Berciano-Reyes, who works as a houseman, cleaning and maintaining the hotel’s public areas, said he has encountered syringes more than once in bathroom trashcans. The containers rarely have liners, so he and other staff members reach in bare-handed. Juan Carlos Espinal, a night shift employee, relates similar experiences. He said he has cleaned up blood, vomit, human excrement and syringes — all without the aid of gloves. At least two employees have been pricked by needles they found in trashcans and in hotel rooms, according to a complaint filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and an anonymous report to a local hotel workers union.
In May, Wyndham workers filed a complaint with OSHA alleging inadequate workplace-safety assessments, training and access to personal protective equipment such as gloves. Following a two-month investigation, the agency affirmed their concerns, citing the Beacon Hill property for failing to provide adequate gloves, facemasks and equipment; for not isolating laundry that had been contaminated with bodily fluids; and for providing insufficient training on how to use protective equipment and cleaning chemicals. The hotel was fined $12,000 and given a January deadline to meet training requirements and purchase appropriate supplies for workers. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Wyndham wrote that the hotel was reviewing the proposed citations. “Please know we take these matters very seriously and will work with OSHA to reach a resolution,” she wrote.
The Wyndham case may not be an isolated one. As more people travel for medical care and outpatient treatment becomes increasingly common, hotel chains are adding facilities near, or even on, hospital grounds. These so-called hospital hotels advertise to patients and families and sometimes negotiate contracts with hospitals to provide discounts and other incentives such as free shuttles for patients. Yet some housekeepers, union leaders and biohazard experts say the hotels may be unprepared for the attendant health risks.
“More and more, we’re seeing housekeepers coming into rooms sometimes used by hospital patients. They’re finding bodily fluids and potentially infectious materials, waste products, blood, used syringes,” said Tiffany Ten Eyck, an organizer with Unite Here Local 26, a union that represents many hotel employees in Boston (though not those at the Wyndham).