No one knows how many N.J. medical workers have COVID-19. That needs to change, nurses union says. - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

No one knows how many N.J. medical workers have COVID-19. That needs to change, nurses union says.

Taken from

By Spencer Kent | NJ Advance Media for

December 7, 2020

No one seems to know exactly how many frontline health care workers have contracted COVID-19 in New Jersey — not even the state’s largest nurses union.

Despite all the data available on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, hospitals and medical facilities are not required to report the number of medical staff who have fallen ill from the coronavirus.

Health Professionals and Allied Employees, the union that represents 14,000 nurses in New Jersey, called on the state Monday to change that and require hospitals to track sick workers.

“You all may be wondering, ‘Well, how many workers are really affected right now?’” said HPAE President Debbie White on Monday during a virtual news conference. “I’m talking hospital workers. So the short answer to that question is, we don’t know. Why? Because there’s no mandate from our state government, no law that would force hospitals to keep track of sick hospital workers.”

White was joined by fellow union members, doctors, nurses and state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat. The group voiced strong support for a bill — A-4129 — held up in the Assembly. A version of it (S-2384) was passed over the summer in the state Senate.

“This bill would mandate that hospitals track and report the numbers of sick workers and workers who have died from COVID-19,” White said.

When asked about the measure during his regular coronavirus briefing Monday afternoon, Gov. Phil Murphy said he supported a measure requiring better tracking of workers who have gotten sick.

“Yes, 100%” Murphy said. “Folks have a right to know what’s going on.”

The New Jersey Hospital Association could not be immediately reached for comment.

New Jersey health officials reported 3,573 new coronavirus cases and 17 additional deaths Monday as hospitalizations (3,346) increased to the highest number in nearly seven months. Those figures come after a record 6,046 positive tests were announced Sunday.

There have been reports of outbreaks among staff at some New Jersey hospitals, including at Palisades and Ocean medical centers.

Since the spring, doctors have been sickened and nurses have died, including two at Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, the HPAE has said. The number of sick workers in the state could be much higher — it just doesn’t have the figures to know for sure, the union said during the news conference.

Palisades Medical Center, part of the Hackensack Meridian Health network, did not provide the number of medical workers who have gotten sick. But a spokeswoman said “less than 1.5% of our total clinical workforce is currently out of work” across the network.

Weinberg and the nurses union say an exact figure needs to be known.

“It is really a bill about transparency,” Weinberg said. “We are recording every kind of statistic around COVID-19 from racial background, geography … I don’t understand why this set of statistics that should be so important to us — that is, how many COVID patients do we have among our health care workers in our hospitals?”

She added, “So I’m hoping that the Assembly will act quickly, that the governor will sign it, and if there is some reason that it’s not being acted upon, that the governor would consider a new executive order on this issue.”

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