Tag Archives: healthcare workers

Frontline Care Workers Are Undervalued

New Orleans       In the “time of the virus,” I talked to Jackie Dartz, a member of the Local 100 United Labor Unions executive board and longtime steward at LARC, the Lafayette Association of Retarded Citizens, about direct care workers that were at the frontlines about their preparations for the covid-19 pandemic on Wade’s World I wanted to know if there was anything special they were doing to prepare, and how they would handle this situation.  Jackie has worked at LARC for thirty-six years where she is both a van driver and a direct care worker and instructor for various clients.

At one level she was reassuring about the preparations for this very vulnerable population.  She said they were always attentive to hygiene and the possibilities of viral infections with this susceptible population.  Individual care workers who support clients in independent living conditions are required to also be hyper vigilant.

Is it enough?  Well, that was a harder question, because on the frontlines of direct care, no one really knows in a unique situation like this one, what would constitute enough.

Were there special instructions they were getting from their employer and supervisors?  Certainly, she said that everyone was aware of these issues and had doubled down on the usual procedures, but at the point we talked there were no cases in the Lafayette area, so in many ways both workers and bosses were crossing their fingers.

We had been bargaining a renewal of the union contract earlier in that week.  We knew its benefits and its limits.  We had an extended argument about wage freezes that the nonprofit was proposing for another year of the contract, because their reimbursement rate had not improved.  One member of the committee had given an impassioned plea to management about how hard the work was, how critical to the clients, and how undervalued workers were when they looked at their wages.

They aren’t alone.  We represent nursing home workers in various places of the state, especially north Louisiana in Shreveport.  We reached out for them in recent weeks to review health and safety procedures.  In nursing homes, wages have risen as labor supply has tightened.  Certification is required.  Home residents are thus far the most vulnerable population because of general age and health.  Not enough is being done, though everyone was willing to meet and talk.

None of our contracts include stipulations for either hazard pay if workers are deemed essential and have to report to work or robust enough paid leave time if workers are forced to quarantine.  Most care workers are also in the gap of health care coverage.  Because their employers are large enough they have to offer health insurance, but the deductibles and monthly rates are exorbitant, meaning that often no one buys the program, while they are also barred from the best provisions of the Affordable Care Act because of the employers’ claim of nominal insurance.

These workers are vital, but they are at risk and, relatively speaking, as our member stood up and said to the LARC team, they are “paid poverty wages.”  They are working at the sharp edge of life and death, but their own lives are purchased cheaply while they are forced to risk everything to care for others.

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Coronavirus Policy and Financial Failures Put Nursing Home Workers at Risk

New Orleans       Is the coronavirus a pandemic and economic catastrophe or a hiccup along the road to progress as the President promises?  Who knows?  What already seems clear is that for all of the talk about China not being ready for this, it also seems that America has our pants down around our ankles as well.  Cases in point would have to include nursing home workers and people who are quarantined.

In Washington State many of the deaths so far occurred in what is described as a nursing home.  The Washington State Nurses Association has been critical of the preparations for their people in the home and in area hospitals.  There have been reports that the first arrivals for quarantines at military bases found the medical workers without hazmat suits and other preparations, meaning that they could be Typhoid Mary’s to the general population.  At first glance, none of this has looked like an A-game.

Local 100, United Labor Unions, represents nursing home workers in Shreveport, Napoleonville, and other Louisiana cities, as well as community home workers in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and elsewhere, all of whom serve vulnerable communities and clients.  We are reaching out to the owners and management to determine a plan for the clients we serve, but also what they have in place to protect the workers that we represent.  We’re worried that what we are going to hear is not going to sound pretty!

Why?  None of the nursing homes are nonprofit.  None of them got any better than a barely passing grade on state inspections in Shreveport.  Workers often complain about shortages of basic supplies, including adult diapers.  Are such healthcare facilities given an inside track for masks, gloves, and other preventive equipment?  Do they have the capacity to quarantine on-site or where?  Some do, and some don’t.  Nursing homes are generally more prepared than most because common viruses like the flu are potential killers for such vulnerable populations, but we worry about how easily we could be overwhelmed.

What happens if workers get exposed?  Is this workman’s compensation eligible?  With limited sick pay provisions, workers invariably will try to stay on the job.  How can they be compensated in these situations?  These are unanswered questions.

Reports from quarantined individuals are similar.  If they are placed in private, rather than government facilities, there are already stories of individuals released from quarantine, but getting “surprise” medical bills.  They were directed to a mandatory quarantine by the federal government.  Why are they personally responsible for the bills, if the government sent them to a private facility?

Is this an area for FEMA relief for both the workers and those quarantined?  FEMA does stand for Federal Emergency Management Agency.  It may not be a pandemic yet, but the coronavirus is absolutely an emergency if you are a healthcare worker or someone caught in a room waiting for the all clear to leave.

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