MIAMI—-Two months into the COVID-19 crisis and with the numbers of confirmed cases spiking in the state’s long-term care (LTC) facilities, nursing home workers still are facing dangerous shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a lack of information from employers while they care for Floridians most vulnerable to the highly contagious virus.
From March 1 to April 30, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in nursing homes rose from 0 to about 3,500, with more than 320 deaths. Some individual Florida facilities were shown to have more than 100 Covid-positive cases each, according to the latest state reports.
Of these total cases, more than 1,100 were nursing home staff members and caregivers who help dress, feed, bathe and carry out many other close-contact and essential daily functions for elderly residents.
Yet, members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, say that they still face substantial shortages of masks, gloves, gowns and other PPE on the job, even at locations that report having adequate supplies to Florida government officials, including:
• Hillcrest Nursing & Rehab Center in Hollywood: “We’re being asked used one mask for a week at a time. This isn’t safe for us or our patients.”
• Avante, Lake Worth: “We see supplies in the building, but we’re forced to wear them two or more weeks. We’re told to save our masks in a plastic bag.”
• Palm Garden of Port St. Lucie: “Management is hiding PPE and making staff constantly ask for it. When the state came last week, all of a sudden there were boxes of masks.”
• Franco Nursing Home, Miami: “Masks are here, but we’re forced to wear the same surgical mask for a week.”
• Fair Havens Center, Miami Springs: “We had to march on the boss for PPE this morning. This isn’t right.”
• The Bristol, Tampa: “Management is hoarding N95 masks and gowns. We literally have to beg for them. We shouldn’t have to work in fear.”
These discrepancies and lack of transparency have been an ongoing problem during this crisis,” said Dale Ewart, executive vice president at 1199SEIU, the state’s largest union of healthcare workers. “LTC facilities have not been sharing information with staff, such as how many or if there were Covid cases in the building, which makes it very difficult to protect yourself or feel safe. Withholding data can be as dangerous as not having or hoarding PPE, for both residents and caregivers. Our members have been working in fear for their patients, themselves and their own families.”
Nursing home workers already face special challenges on the job, such as unfairly low pay and limited benefits such as healthcare and paid time off. While fighting for better wages and benefits in regular times, the union has demanded improved protections and special pay during the pandemic. In addition to PPE, the union is seeking quarantine pay, sick time and more.
Members and leaders of 1199SEIU Florida have called on government at all levels to step in to improve safety and the overall public health. This includes universal masking and enhanced safety protocols, comprehensive testing, and utilizing all resources for increased PPE production and distribution.
This week, as PPE shortages continue, the union facilitated a donation of 20,000 KN-95 masks to nursing homes in Florida to supplement shortfalls and better protect workers.
“We’re in this crisis and still having to scrap and scrape for supplies because of incompetent preparation, especially by the Trump administration, said Margarette Nerette, 1199SEIU vice president of long-term care. “But all parties must be held accountable, including healthcare facilities that are hoarding PPE or misrepresenting or withholding critical Covid-related information such as actual cases and notifications of contact with Covid-positive individuals.”
The union will contact Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and will consider filing federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) complaints against facilities that unsafely withhold PPE.
The organization is asking members and others to report improper PPE practices at nursing homes throughout the state.
“These are our parents, grandparents and their caregivers in their greatest time of need,” said Nerette. “Everyone should be in this together to protect their wellbeing.”
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest healthcare union in the country representing more than 450,000 nurses and healthcare workers nationwide, including more than 24,000 in Florida. Our nurses, certified nursing assistants and other healthcare workers care for Florida families in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities throughout the state.