When the coronavirus pandemic became real at my hospital, I was in awe of my brothers and sisters who accepted any assignment in support of the effort, even when the work was unfamiliar. They instantly retrained and moved here and there to help wherever there was a need. Providing care to the patients was their mission, and they were relentless to get the job done.
Like the President has said, this virus is an enemy, and we are in a war. Employees became soldiers in my eyes, and without fear, they helped the frightened and the sick. As time continued on the front line, nurses began to share concerns about their own safety. Concerns expressed included being limited to one surgical mask a day to prevent the spread of infection, having reduced access to personal protective equipment after management changed the locks on the storage closet, and being instructed to use N95 respirators for several days in a row.
These practices are inconsistent with the recommendations for safe patient care and result in increased cross contamination risks to the patients, potential delays in care, and poorly managed risk of exposure for the healthcare provider. Further, pregnant and nursing mothers were told they were not a priority for telework in order to escape the virus. Parents who suddenly had children at home when schools closed struggled to get telework and/or approved leave to support the unique circumstances suddenly thrust upon their families. Employees involuntarily reassigned to new duty stations have had to drive up to two additional hours for work and were told they would not be reimbursed for their COVID-preparedness expenses.
Anticipating my ability to help given my experience as an employee advocate, I feverishly communicated to management of all levels my brothers’ and sisters' needs, repeatedly.
To date, sadly, I admit not one of my efforts has been successful in truly addressing these needs. The problems I reported remain basically unchanged. Management has responded with non-committal answers, unkept promises, and reversed offers. Community members know my coworkers are heroes to me; they deserve to be recognized as such. Join with me to demand these men and women be provided the personal protective equipment they need to keep our patients safe and themselves healthy and that other needs be met to ensure psychological safety.
We work at VA Northern Indiana Health Care Systems; we take care of Veterans. Our government must take care of us.
Linda Rademaker, RN
American Federation of Government Employees Union, Local 1020 President