Service Employees International Union International President Mary Kay Henry, along with several SEIU healthcare providers, spoke on a national call with other frontline workers as they shared how they are battling coronavirus and how a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is endangering their ability to keep themselves, patients and communities safe.
“It’s outrageous that healthcare workers are being asked to make their own masks,” said Henry. “Or even worse, reuse them. If we wait, more healthcare workers will be in danger and more lives will be lost.”
Gabe Montoya, an emergency room assistant at Kaiser Downey in Downey, California and SEIU United Healthcare Workers West member, is among those who are fighting for PPE in their facilities. “The shortage of personal protective equipment is a national disgrace,” said Montoya. “We’re working with very little security and that has consequences. Imagine coming home from a really long day at your job and being afraid to kiss the people you love; that’s the reality my co-workers and I are dealing with right now.”
Yazmin Soto, a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home in Perth Amboy, N.J. and 1199SEIU member, is another worker whose facility has had a lot of issues with PPE, especially with gloves and masks. “Last Friday when I came to work, I was given one disposable face mask.” said Soto. “I was told to wear it all day long, and then put it in a bag to bring home with me so I can wear it again the next day. These masks are not meant to be reused, especially not for multiple days.”
DeSharna Johnson, a home care worker in California who cares for her 64-year-old mother & 91-year-old neighbor, is part of a team from SEIU Local 2015 that distributes gloves, masks and hand sanitizer to other home care workers. “This epidemic came on so suddenly,” said Johnson. “Making $13.80 an hour is barely enough to get by and I don’t have money saved up. I had to use bill money the other day to make sure we had the food and medicines we need on hand.”
Melanie Arciaga, a registered nurse at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and SEIU 1199NW member, has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. “We have also seen rationing of PPE. In some units, masks are kept under lock & key, & we have access only to limited quantities. This is unacceptable,” said Arciaga.
SEIU members are continuing to demand the federal government drive a coordinated, national response to get more supplies and equipment to frontline caregivers, and for employers to fully protect and support healthcare workers and their families.