Healthcare Unions Demand Protections for Workers on the Frontlines of COVID-19 Outbreak in NJ

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

As healthcare unions representing thousands of frontline caregivers across NJ, we are calling on the State of NJ to stay strong on standards and ensure all healthcare facilities have the supplies, training materials, and staffing support they need to reduce everyone’s risk of exposure to COVID19.  The unions, HPAE, 1199SEIU, 1199J, CIR, JNESO, USW, NJNU sent a letter on March 9th to Commissioner Persichilli requesting a meeting with all healthcare unions to address serious concerns their members are facing in healthcare facilities across the state. We await a response.

Debbie White, RN and President of Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE):

“Healthcare workers must feel confident that they have had the training they need and the protective equipment necessary to keep them safe them while they continue to provide patient care to those infected with COVID-19. Our unions are standing together to demand, not beg, but demand proper training and protections be readily available to every healthcare worker in every facility. Those concerns must be addressed before this virus spreads even further across the state.”

Milly Silva, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East:

“Novel coronavirus poses significant risk to seniors and those with compromised immune systems, so it is incumbent on state and federal authorities to make sure that nursing facilities take comprehensive precautions now.  Union members of 1199SEIU in New Jersey are expressing urgent concerns about nursing home preparedness: what is the plan? This includes flags on prevention and protection tools such as adequate supplies, appropriate staffing, and frequent, consistent training on COVID-19.  If we are lacking, we must improve immediately.  Less than two years ago, our state witnessed the terrible consequences of viral spread in a nursing home, when 11 children died at Wanaque Center.  Today, we cannot wait for another tragedy to unfold before taking major action.”

Dr. Georgia Davies, NJ regional VP for CIR:

“At this point, there is no excuse to lack preparation for COVID-19. I am an ER resident physician and I am updated daily on protocols, we run drills and all while maintaining quality patient care. Our preparation will protect our patients and all healthcare workers. This needs to be the standard at every hospital.”

The CDC has announced new interim recommendations on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for situations where adequate supplies are unavailable. The CDC recommendations state that face masks are an acceptable alternative when the supply chain of respirators cannot meet the demand. NJ’s healthcare unions urge NJ DOH to maintain that position that N95 respirators are the standard and are necessary protection for our nurses and healthcare workers caring for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients.

The CDC agrees that when the supply chain is restored, providers should return to the use of N95s. The CDC states that ​“This interim guidance has been updated based on currently available information about COVID-19 and the current situation in the United States, which includes reports of cases of community transmission, infections identified in healthcare personnel (HCP), and shortages of facemasks, N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) (commonly known as N95 respirators), and gowns.”

Our unions are demanding that supply shortage must continue to be addressed in the most aggressive way possible. NJ must continue to call on the CDC to proactively and effectively target the supply of respirators and use other controls to reduce the risk of infection in health care workers, knowing that our professionals are at the highest risk of infection. The federal government should do all in its power to increase the supply of N95 respirators and other PPE, such as N/R/ or P99s or 100s.   We strongly urge the federal government to release the national stockpile and target supplies to areas where the outbreak has already occurred; incentivizing U.S.-based companies to produce more N95s and better, disposable air purifying respirators; and promoting the use of powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) in health care settings.

Additionally, our unions call on hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, clinics and other health care facilities to provide personal protective equipment in an equitable manner, provide formal training, and ensure sufficient staffing levels at all times. All health care workers — providers, nurses, certified nursing aides, technical staff and service workers including environmental services janitorial staff and dietary workers— who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to COVID-19 must be afforded the same protections. Furthermore, many health care workers speak English as a second language. Instruction in the use of PPE, changes to the use of PPE, and in instruction about safe work practices in environments where COVID-19 may be present must be provided in multiple languages and in clear, uncomplicated phrasing in order to increase access to essential information.

Our unions are committed to a practice of social distancing, so healthcare workers will hold a virtual rally on social media on Thursday, March 12th between 12-3pm to deliver a message to the Murphy Administration and New Jersey’s healthcare providers that healthcare workers need NJ to Stay Strong by upholding protective measures and ensure every worker has the equipment, training, and support they need to keep our communities safe.

For more information contact:

Bridget Devane, HPAE, bdevane@hpae.org, 732-996-5493

Bryn Lloyd-Bollard, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, bryn.lloydbollard@1199.org, 732-606-5949