A former security guard sues a hospital accused of letting bodies of COVID-19 patients decompose, alleging it forced her to clean up leaking body bags

·4 min read
memorial hospital of gardena
An ambulance crew member delivering a patient to the Memorial Hospital of Gardena emergency room during a surge of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles on December 26, 2020.David Swanson/Reuters
  • A lawsuit alleges a hospital forced its security staff to handle the bodies of COVID-19 patients.

  • The bodies had thawed and burst out of body bags, leaking blood and other fluids, the lawsuit said.

  • A guard suing the hospital said she was threatened with termination if she didn't handle the bodies.

A former security guard has sued a California hospital, alleging she was forced to physically handle the decomposing bodies of COVID-19 patients that had thawed because of too warm temperatures in the morgue and outdoor freezers.

Memorial Hospital of Gardena has made headlines in recent weeks over its handling of dead COVID-19 patients. The local news station CBSLA captured aerial footage that showed body bags being moved in one of the hospital's parking lots, and the outlet reported that a witness said the corpses had been left outside in the rain.

The security guard suing the hospital alleged that she and other guards were forced on December 27 to "open the body bags containing persons who died with COVID," "change the body bags," and "label or relabel the persons on the new body bag."

The lawsuit said the security guard handled the bodies using only gloves, and it alleged that the hospital gave her "no hazmat suit, no PPE." Multiple nurses told the guard that they couldn't help with the task because the bodies were contaminated and posed a risk to their health and safety, the lawsuit said.

The security guard, who is 21 years old and earned an hourly rate of $15.50, said she reported the faulty freezers and decomposing bodies to her superiors "over 10 times" between early November and late December.

The lawsuit said that the decomposition caused "blood, bodily fluid, and limbs to leak or burst out of the body bags, even causing limbs to burst from the bags." The security guard got blood and fluid on her at least two or three times, the lawsuit said.

"The bodies continued to deteriorate. More blood and fluid leaked. More limbs fell out of the body bags," the lawsuit said.

The guard alleged that her bosses threatened to fire her if she refused to handle the decomposing bodies

Representatives for Pipeline Health, the hospital network that manages Memorial Hospital of Gardena, did not immediately respond on Tuesday to Insider's request for comment.

The security guard alleged in the lawsuit that when she complained about having to handle the bodies, her boss told her: "You guys are very lazy. All you guys do is complain."

When the security guard spoke up, saying she was not hired or trained to handle decomposing bodies and was not given proper equipment to do so, the lawsuit said her boss threatened her with termination.

"There are bodies all over the ground. There is no one around to help us. This is unsafe. We don't have anything but gloves on," the guard told her boss, the lawsuit said. "These are COVID patients all around me, ripped bags. These bodies are ripped, there is blood everywhere."

After her boss instructed her to "just throw the bodies back in the freezer like they were," the security guard "was severely emotionally distressed and left," the lawsuit said.

The complaint added that the guard heard nothing more from her superiors for several days, and she then resigned. The lawsuit seeks $50 million to compensate the guard for lost wages, cover the cost of the lawsuit and attorneys' fees, and "deter future similar reprehensible conduct."

An attorney for the guard did not immediately respond on Tuesday to Insider's request for comment.

Memorial Hospital of Gardena previously told CBSLA in a statement that the facility was struggling with "overcrowding in its morgue facilities," and that it was working to obtain a larger temporary cooling unit to house the excess bodies.

The hospital also denied to CBSLA that bodies were mishandled, saying the mobile freezer remained at the required 34-degree temperature, and that no bodies were left outside in the rain.

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