Haymarket Center battles coronavirus outbreak; former employee says they acted ‘too late’

At least 45 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at Haymarket Center, 932 W. Washington Blvd. — 14 employees and 31 patients, according to a facility spokesperson.

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Haymarket Center at 932 West Washington Blvd. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Haymarket Center, 932 W. Washington Blvd.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A West Loop mental health and substance abuse treatment center is responding to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases and criticism that it put employees at risk.

Two employees of the Haymarket Center have died in the past two months; the most recent was just last week. Former employees said the deaths were coronavirus-related, but facility officials could not confirm that.

At least 45 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at Haymarket Center, 932 W. Washington Blvd. — 14 employees and 31 patients, according to a facility spokesperson.

Two former employees who spoke to the Sun-Times blame administrators for creating what they said was an unsafe working environment.

One of those employees — who didn’t want their name used because they thought it might affect their job search — feared the center wasn’t taking the virus seriously, so they resigned a month ago after repeated pleas to their supervisor to work from home.

“I feel as though they acted too late and the protocols they put in place weren’t good,” the former employee said Tuesday. “I requested to work from home from my direct supervisor well before the [stay-at-home] order and he was passive about it and dodged any further questions.”

The former employee said they were given Lysol and hand sanitizers but temperature checks started only after the stay-at home order.

This person said all staff was deemed essential and forced to come into the office even if they had no direct interaction with patients.

“We all had to come in and risk being exposed,” they said.

Dr. Dan Lustig, president and CEO of Haymarket Center, said patients with confirmed cases are being monitored by Haymarket medical staff while employees who tested positive are quarantined at home.

“These are unprecedented and frightening times, and congregate settings like ours are being impacted disproportionately around the country,” Lustig said in a statement. “In spite of aggressive mitigation measures implemented in conjunction with [the Chicago Department of Public Health], [the Illinois Department of Public Health] and infectious disease specialists, coronavirus made its way into our facility.”

The former worker said they were also told if they came in to work they would get an additional $300 at the end of the pay period.

“Which would make more sense if it was exclusively for clinical staff, but this was for those who worked in positions like my own where I am not caring for anyone.” the former employee said. “I personally feel it was offered to discourage people from calling in [sick].”

Lustig said the additional money was considered hazard pay to support employees during a difficult time. It was never intended to discourage people from taking sick time.

“We have repeatedly asked staff to stay home if they have symptoms, we are screening employees twice a day, and we have updated our employees regularly to keep them informed.” Lustig said. “Like many health care providers, we are offering bonuses to thank employees for doing a difficult job, and so they can pay for transportation and child care while school is out.”

Manny Ramos is a corps member inReport for America,a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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