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MIAMI—-With COVID-19 surging in Florida, the state’s largest healthcare union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, has outlined a variety protocols and demands to government officials designed protect caregivers and to prevent an even more dire public health crisis caused by the highly contagious coronavirus.
During the past week, more than 300 Floridians died related to COVID-19 in Florida, including the state’s deadliest single day since the outbreak began more than a month ago, according to Florida’s Department of Health. Already, there are about 28,000 confirmed cases and almost 900 deaths, while healthcare workers across the state are forced to provide care while facing dangerous shortages of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
“This emergency was created by slow and incompetent preparation, especially by the Trump Administration, but now we need immediate and honest action from all levels of government to avert a more catastrophic crisis,” said Dale Ewart Executive Vice President and Florida Regional Director of 1199SEIU. “The priority is PPE in our hospitals and nursing homes, where critical shortages are forcing facilities and workers to use untested or dangerous practices that put caregivers, patients and the general public at immense risk.”
1199SEIU protocols and demands include:
• Act now to ensure adequate supplies of PPE, testing and treatment for ALL frontline healthcare workers including hospital, nursing home, home care, and clinic staff.
• Rapidly expand the production of essential equipment, including a requirement for factories to produce PPE under the Defense Production Act, and distribute according to greatest need, rather than the highest bidder.
• Institute price controls to stop profiteering on lifesaving equipment.
• Universal masking—every healthcare worker with direct access to patients should be provided with Level 1 surgical masks. Those with more risk of exposure to COVID-19 patients must be provided with N95 respirators.
• Where shortages force hospitals and nursing homes to fall back on suboptimal protocol, employers must better explain what they are doing and why, and what steps are underway to return to proper procedure.
Healthcare institutions have received a substantial portion of the $2 trillion governmental stimulus and 6.2% payroll tax relief, and 1199SEIU Florida demands that the bulk of those resources support workers serving on the front lines of this crisis, including:
• Paid sick time for employees who are quarantined.
• Hazard pay for frontline staff.
• Keeping employees on payroll so that skilled workers are available when the pandemic reaches its peak.
• The union also demands that Florida must fix its broken unemployment insurance system, so all workers – healthcare or otherwise — can provide for their families.
Nursing homes and their caregivers must be given special attention in the COVD-19 crisis, according to 1199SEIU. Workers there are among the lowest paid with limited health benefits and sick time, and they face special challenges in this crisis. PPE shortages in their facilities are the most acute, placing their elderly patients – who are most vulnerable to the virus – at even greater peril.
State officials finally began releasing the names of facilities with confirmed cases last week, but much greater transparency and action is needed to protect Florida seniors and their caregivers, according to union members.
“The situation in nursing homes is critical all around the state,” said Amy Runkle, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at a long-term care facility in Southwest Florida. “With so many seniors here, we’re risking a real tragedy.”
Union members also point out that if caregivers start falling from the virus in large numbers, there won’t be enough healthcare workers to serve the broader public. So far, the union estimates more than 100 Florida members of 1199SEIU have become ill and/or have been quarantined because of possible COVID-19 exposure. The bulk of these figures are from 75 nursing homes in which the union represents caregivers.
“The well-being of healthcare workers is essential to the health and safety of all Floridians. We’re afraid for our patients, our own families and ourselves,” Runkle said. “And as the surge of COVID-19 hits, all of us need to be served by our local, state and national governments finally stepping up and doing all they can to protect us.”
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest healthcare union in the country representing more than 450,000 nurses and healthcare workers nationwide, including more than 24,000 in Florida. Our nurses, certified nursing assistants and other healthcare workers care for Florida families in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities throughout the state.