By TIM ROWDEN
SEIU Healthcare Missouri, which represents some of the employees at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital and Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville, is demanding hazard pay, adequate personal protective equipment, paid sick time and testing for all hospital workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Workers held socially-distanced demonstrations during shift changes outside the hospitals Thursday, May 7, holding signs outlining their demands while standing six-feet apart and wearing face masks.
Lenny Jones, director and vice president of SEIU Healthcare Missouri, says while some conditions have improved, more needs to be done to protect and support healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
“There’s been a lot of focus on PPE,” Jones said, “but they still don’t have hazard pay, paid sick-time if they’re diagnosed with COVID-19 or have to quarantine because they’ve come in contact with someone.”
Thousands of frontline workers have signed petitions demanding that area hospitals utilize the $100 billion Federal Provider Fund to pay healthcare workers time-and-a-half hazard pay, provide adequate PPE, offer paid sick time for those who are exposed or infected, and ensure every hospital worker has access to free testing throughout the duration of the pandemic.
‘PUTTING EVERYONE AT RISK’
“We work on the floor and do everything alongside the nurses,” said Caprice Nevils, a patient care partner at SLU Hospital. “We check patients’ vital signs, check their blood sugar, feed them, take them to the bathroom, change them, suction them. If you don’t have proper PPE for that, then you’re putting everyone at risk.”
Nevils said she has PPE, but not enough. She turns her facemask in to the hospital at the end of each shift to get cleaned.
With an at-risk partner at home and an elderly mother she cares for, Nevils said she worries about getting infected or taking the virus home.
“If they’ve allotted all of this money to hospitals, then the hospitals should use some of that money for helping workers,” Nevils said. “If you have the means to make a difference, then you should do that.”
National Nurses United, the union representing nurses at the hospital, submitted a letter to the St. Louis City Health Department last week, drawing attention to the need for more protective equipment for hospital workers.
Brenda Chate, a food service cashier in the SLU Hospital cafeteria said, “It’s very stressful, because we don’t know who has the coronavirus or who may be a carrier, and we don’t know if the nurses or doctors in the cafeteria have been exposed.
“They’re not telling us anything,” she said. “We hear different stories, but we don’t know what to believe.”
NURSING HOME WORKERS
SEIU Healthcare Missouri also represents workers at Grand Manor Nursing and Rehab and Northview Village nursing homes in St. Louis, where socially-distanced demonstrations were held earlier in the week on May 4.
Nursing home workers are risking their own health and safety to continue serving residents on the frontlines of the global pandemic, Jones said. At least 70 nursing homes in the St. Louis area have outbreaks of COVID-19, according to the Missouri Health Department.
The predominantly black, female workforce of the nursing homes know the dangers of coronavirus and its even deadlier impact on communities of color, he said, yet their employers continue to ignore demands for resources and policies needed to keep the workforce and residents safe.
‘RISKING MY LIFE EVERY DAY’
“We put ourselves and our family at risk just coming in to work,” said Shontay Crum, a CMT at Northview Village. “We deserve hazard pay.”
Bobby Burns, CNA, works on psych floor at Northview, said he hasn’t seen his 10-year-old son in weeks. “I don’t want him to be exposed to it,” Burns said. “With it being airborne, it’s the stuff you can’t see that can really cause a situation. I haven’t seen him since this stuff has been going on. I don’t know that one day one of these beds could be mine.”
Annie Burgess has worked as a housekeeper at Northview for 30 years.
“I’m concerned about everything,” she said. “I’m in the rooms. I’m close to the patients. I’m cleaning up bodily fluids and everything else. I feel like I’m risking my life every day.”