The novel coronavirus patients (COVID-19) has been aptly described as a war. And it’s unconscionable that health care workers at hospitals throughout the country are not provided the necessary personal protective equipment (PPEs) to keep them safe.
Health care workers are at the greatest risk. In hot spots, they encounter COVID-19 patients daily and typically work in close proximity to one another. Long hours and stress combined also contribute to making their immune systems more vulnerable than normal.
The number of health care workers contracting COVID-19 keeps rising, and already hundreds have been exposed and sent home to self-quarantine.
Hospital workers have been desperately pleading for N95 masks, gowns, and gloves for weeks. But the federal government has been slow to respond, putting health care professionals on the frontlines unnecessarily at risk.
“It’s high anxiety,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. “There’s a lack of confidence that the industry is prepared to adequately provide a safe environment for patients that have the virus and for patients that don’t have the virus, and provide safe working conditions for the people caring for them.”
Hospital workers complain about having to reuse masks beyond what is considered safe. When mask orders come in, often they are used up by the end of the day. The cost of masks also has gone up from about 50 cents each, to as high as $7 a mask, hospital administrators report.
Confidence is even low on the government’s side responding to the national shortage of PPEs. Homeland Security advisor said, “I worry about our health care providers who are in the trenches because any one of them could end up suffering an onslaught of more demand than they have supply. And in a medical capacity when that happens, people can die – and often they do.”
One example is Kious Jordon Kelly, a nursing manager at Mount Sinai West who had been treating COVID-19 in New York, the nation’s current epicenter of the pandemic. Kelly contracted the virus himself and died just one week after being admitted to the hospital. He was only in his 40s.
Mount Sinai West released a statement: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of a beloved member of our nursing staff. The safety of our staff and patients has never been of greater importance and we are taking every precaution possible to protect everyone. But this growing crisis is not abating and has already devasted hundreds of families in New York and turned our frontline professionals into true American heroes.”
The U.S. Better Prepare
If the federal government doesn’t step in and move swiftly, health care workers in the U.S. could suffer the same fate as other countries’ health care workers. In China, nearly 3,400 healthcare workers have contracted the virus; 13 have died. In Italy, at last 2,629 health care workers – roughly 8.3 percent of all cases in that country – have contracted COVID-19 from working with inadequate equipment or being exposed to asymptomatic carriers. In Italy, more than 50 health care workers died from COVID-19.
Hospitals share of Stimulus Package
The recently passed $2 trillion coronavirus bill includes $100 billion for hospitals, which will help immensely, even as late as it is.
Hospital CEOs must still determine what the money can be used for and how it can be given out. Among some of the approved uses: for COVID-19 efforts and resources, such as setting up tents and getting test kits, respirators and PPEs, as well as revenue losses which would include payroll.
The federal stimulus measures will give hospitals that treat Medicare COVID-19 patients a 20% payment increase for all services provided.
Critics of the stimulus package say hospitals should have gotten more. Big corporations, without the urgent demands as hospitals, will receive close to $500 trillion in bail out money. The airlines industry will receive $60 billion.
The bill also took too long to pass. Instead of waiting to iron out how much other corporations and the public would get, lawmakers should have passed a separate emergency bill first to fund hospitals immediately.
Other high-risk groups
Besides the vital work health care workers are providing, other workers putting themselves at risk daily by providing essential services during the pandemic must also be helped. Some of these workers include cashiers, maids, janitors, police, paramedics, firefighters, garbage collectors, couriers-delivery, health home-aides, fast-food workers and drivers for passengers and truck drivers delivering goods.
Most first responders have adequate sick leave and health insurance, but some of these lower-wage workers have no sick leave or even health insurance. The government must think ahead and help these workers. They’re also putting their health at risk for the benefit of the public. Grocery store cashiers, fast-food workers, truck drivers (transporting all goods) are keeping us fed. It’s time they, too, receive the respect and protection they deserve.