Leaders of several local and national unions issued a joint statement following the expected guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that will weaken protections for healthcare workers on the frontlines of fighting the coronavirus outbreak.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said:
“Nursing professionals, techs, respiratory therapists and the other workers supporting patient care are at ground zero of this public health crisis, and their voices must be a key part of developing a national plan to address coronavirus. Failing to provide adequate protection to healthcare workers increases the risk that they will spread the infection, and failing to protect them weakens our response.
“Unfortunately, both the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have done little thus far to engage with workers, and to make sure they’re clear on the protocols for respiratory protection and exposure to infectious disease. That, coupled with these rollbacks, is a troubling sign of our government’s ability to manage this threat to our communities.”
Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry said:
“The Trump administration has left healthcare workers in the dark by spreading misinformation, delaying the release of guidelines and best practices developed by public health experts, and is putting the health of the stock market above the health of people.
“Nurses, lab techs, environmental service workers, dietary aides, caregivers and doctors in our hospitals, nursing homes and communities are in direct contact with patients, meaning these workers are at high risk of contracting or spreading illnesses. In the face of a health emergency, it is more important than ever to ensure these workers are prepared with the right equipment and ready to take action—not left wondering how to keep themselves, their patients and their families healthy.
“Furthermore, everyone on the frontlines of care—from hospital workers to home care workers—must have affordable healthcare and paid sick time they can count on. No one should have to go to work sick because they are worried about being penalized or missing a day’s pay; and no one should have to postpone or forgo treatment because they can’t afford the bill.
“The Trump administration, the CDC and OSHA must put worker and patient safety—not cost reduction —first. As the largest union of healthcare workers, SEIU will continue to push the Trump administration to improve its response. This situation shows the power that working people have when we join together in unions, and it is a good example of why every worker should have the opportunity to join a union—no matter where they work.”
SEIU 1199 Executive Vice President Jane Hopkins, RN, said:
“When nurses and caregivers are told they don’t have to wear proper respiratory protection, or that paper masks are good enough—whether that message comes from the CDC or the hospitals— it is a message that is damaging to the health and safety of our caregivers and our communities. Caregivers at the bedside know that N95 or better respiratory protection is essential for their safety as workers at risk of repeated exposure to the novel coronavirus.
“As frontline caregivers, we are the experts in keeping ourselves and our patients safe. Not providing adequate protections for healthcare workers not only puts caregivers at risk but puts patients at risk as well. We are calling on the CDC to make the safety of healthcare workers, and thus our patients, the first priority by creating and communicating clear guidance to hospitals on ensuring the highest possible standard of respiratory protection for healthcare workers.
“The CDC and other public health agencies must consult with healthcare workers when setting these standards for respiratory protection during this public health crisis. We understand the threat we are facing, and we know what we need to provide the best care possible to our patients. Anything less than N95 respirators is not good enough.”
Washington State Nurses Association Executive Director Sally Watkins, who is based at the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., said:
“Nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers stand ready to respond to this crisis, but they should not have to sacrifice their own health, or risk infecting their loved ones. Frontline workers need assurance from the federal government that they’ll be protected. In Washington state, we have heard from nurses that they don’t feel they have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need, are not getting adequate real-time training, and don’t feel prepared.
“Lowering the standards for protective gear will weaken the ability of nurses and other frontline caregivers to safely care for their patients in this public health emergency. N95 respirators are the necessary and minimum protection for our nurses and healthcare workers.
“We are calling on the CDC to proactively and effectively target the supply of respirators and use other controls to reduce the risk of infection in healthcare workers, knowing that our professionals are at the highest risk of infection. The federal government should do all in its power to increase the supply of N95 respirators and other PPE, which includes releasing the national stockpile and targeting supplies to areas where the outbreak has already occurred; incentivizing U.S.-based companies to produce more N95s; and promoting the use of powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) in healthcare settings. Healthcare professionals also need training in real time on how to properly use the respirators, with opportunities to practice and to ask questions.
“The CDC should also immediately do more to promote other key controls, such as isolation protocols, adequate nurse staffing, delaying unnecessary procedures, utilizing telemedicine and improving air ventilation to reduce the presence of viral particles in the air. This crisis requires vigilance from all of us—and it requires that we protect the nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers who are fighting to save lives and stem the spread of disease.”
UFCW International President Marc Perrone said:
“Healthcare workers represented by UFCW across the country are bravely stepping up to help so many communities confronting the coronavirus. Keeping our patients and families safe starts with strong leadership. UFCW’s 1.3 million members and workers across the country are calling on the CDC and both parties—Republicans and Democrats—to work together to take the bold steps needed to strengthen the government’s response to this crisis before it’s too late.”
UFCW 21 President Faye Guenther in Seattle said:
“Our members are displaying extraordinary courage and dedication at the frontlines of this outbreak in Washington state, and both the safety of our community and the integrity of our healthcare system depend on their ability to do their work safely, By caring for patients with COVID-19, healthcare workers are putting themselves at higher risk, and they deserve the highest level of protection.”