Dr. Lily Ostrer, an internal medicine-pediatrics physician at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and a proud member of CIR SEIU, is among many SEIU healthcare professionals who have been fighting for paid sick leave for all workers, especially front-line healthcare workers, as the nation faces the spread of coronavirus.
“This issue of paid sick leave in Miami came up before the coronavirus even existed. It was a proposal introduced last fall by County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava,” said Dr. Ostrer. “I had testified before the county commissioners about how many workers across industries cannot afford to go without this basic benefit.”
“What this virus is revealing now is how inadequate social safety nets are and how inadequate our ability to ensure that everyone, or at least most people in this country, stays safe and healthy. This isn’t just a failure of our federal and local governments, but of corporations who feel like they are only responsible for their bottom line and not their employees and clients,” she added.
As coronavirus cases grow nationwide, more people find themselves deciding between not working and not getting paid or working and risk getting others sick.
“Our patients are from all backgrounds here at Jackson Memorial,” said Dr. Ostrer. “We are the safety net hospital for Miami and our patients reflect how Miami as a city is a melting pot. We have a very large Cuban population and many patients from Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, and all over the Caribbean. Sadly, a lot of our patients either lack health insurance or are underinsured. High healthcare costs, including high deductibles and co-pays consume a significant portion of their income. This story is the same for millions across the U.S., and we’re risking a greater public health disaster because of it.”
Currently, congressional leaders are working on a coronavirus support package for families, but it doesn’t expect to have comprehensive paid sick leave.
“Working people need to have a steady income to maintain themselves. This can be achieved through emergency paid leave,” said Dr. Ostrer. “Elected leaders at all levels need to recognize that not everyone has a job that lets them work from home. They need to put the health, safety and financial well-being of all workers first in their efforts to address this crisis.”
Dr. Ostrer remains committed to fighting coronavirus on the frontlines but also knows that having a voice through a union is one of the best ways to continue advocating for both patients and healthcare workers.
“We have to question the fundamental structure of our society. In Miami, in particular, we can see huge health disparities in the city and not just in terms of race, income or ethnicity, but also in terms of people's immigration status.
I know lots of people are particularly scared now but we need to continue to advocate for our needs and push all levels of government, and we can do that best when we unite collectively through a union,” Dr. Ostrer added.