Workers from several area nursing homes that are both battling coronavirus outbreaks are demanding access to adequate protective equipment, free COVID-19 testing, paid sick time for those who have to quarantine, and hazard pay during the pandemic.
The protests, in collaboration with SEIU Healthcare, started after a coworker at one of the sites died from COVID-19. The workforce is predominantly African American.
“There’s such a high degree of contagion from this virus due to asymptomatic people that the only way we’re going to get on top of it is to have workplaces fully tested,” said Lenny Jones, SEIU Healthcare Missouri state director and vice president.
Workers at Northview Village and Grand Manor nursing homes claim they lack proper personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes face masks, gowns, shields, gloves, and sanitizers. While adequate PPE differs for different workers, depending on whether they work on COVID-19 floors or around potentially impacted people, they claim all workers lack proper protection. Shipments for PPE arrived late and only after workers had died, administrators only issued one mask per shift, and some were even asked to reuse masks, they claim.
“These administrators knew this was coming and should have been better prepared and should not be putting profits of their facilities ahead of investing in the proper equipment,” said Lenny Jones of SEIU Healthcare.
When workers are quarantined after exposure to the virus without sick pay, the decision to stay home or return to work means choosing between staying home without a paycheck or supporting their families financially.
As for hazard pay, Jones said, “This is a moment when healthcare workers are really not only in high demand but are also showing the importance of their work to the community. They need to be rewarded for that service.”
Northview Village and Grand Manor declined to comment on these claims to The St. Louis American.
Nedra Jones, a nursing home worker at Blue Circle Rehab and Nursing, who is now staying at home to care for her mother and grandchildren, shared similar concerns. She said she made the decision to stay home two weeks ago because Blue Circle did not provide any PPE nor testing. Lenny Jones, who receives daily updates from the nursing home, added that workers have limited PPE now and still no testing.
Administrator Rochelle Thurmond from Blue Circle stated that “the facility has an ample supply of PPE, including face shields, masks, N-95 masks, disposable isolation gowns, gloves, and hand sanitizer for our staff to use that is available 24/7.” Thurmond said that only workers placed in the COVID-19 isolation unit needed to wear gowns.
Megan Harper, an administrator at Blue Circle, said, “All staff members accumulate sick and vacation time and depending upon whatever a sick staff member has accumulated paid time off that would determine if we can apply it for their pay checks.”
Protesting against management raises other concerns for workers. Nedra Jones stated, “Employees are afraid to speak up. They are afraid for their jobs because that’s all you have. You do this, you do that, you’re going to be terminated.”
For Nedra Jones, her work is more than just a job. She said, “I’m on the phone every day calling to check on them. Half of them don’t have family to come and see them. We are their family. To me, I am.”
Lenny Jones said these workers were underappreciated and underpaid even before the outbreak.
“These workers are the last to be prioritized, so they get the crumbs when it comes to money that is in healthcare budgets to pay for wages,” Lenny Jones said.
“Once we get through this, we’ve got to remember that these are the workers who were called upon to put themselves at risk to care for our family members. When we go back to the way things you used to be, they cannot be allowed to drop back down as low-paid, underappreciated workers.”
SEIU Healthcare said the public can support these workers by making phone calls to nursing homes to urge management to take care of their workers.