Statement of President Debbie White, RN, before the NJ Assembly Appropriations Committee, Tuesday, December 15, 2020 - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Statement of President Debbie White, RN, before the NJ Assembly Appropriations Committee, Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A.4129 Requires health care facilities to report certain coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) data related

Good morning Chairman Burzichelli, Vice-Chair Schaer and members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. My name is Debbie White, President of Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), which represents nearly 14,000 frontline nurses and healthcare workers across New Jersey and the Philadelphia region. I am here today to speak to A.4129 sponsored by Assemblyman Spearman which will track data on healthcare workers who are exposed, fallen ill and have died due to COVID-19. We supported this legislation in the Senate and today, while we are not pleased with the amendments to the bill, we are here in support.

The Senate passed S.2384 in July 2020 and since then HPAE has urged the Assembly to move this legislation before the second surge arrives at our doorstep. Unfortunately, the second surge hit NJ a month ago and I am aware of nearly 100 workers who have informed HPAE that they have contracted COVID at work and are symptomatic.

The long-term impact of COVID-19 is unknown. How many healthcare workers have fallen ill is unknown, yet we do know that transparency is the only way to knowing how best to ensure we are better prepared in the event of a third surge or any other future pandemic outbreaks. The health and safety of frontline workers in healthcare is critical as we are facing a worker shortage due to outbreaks among staff in facilities. We knew as the rest of the country began to surge that NJ would not have the back up support that we did have in the spring.

We know of six members who passed away during the first surge and I hope we do not see more deaths. We are disappointed that the Assembly has stalled this bill during a time when healthcare workers desperately needed the support of the legislature.

As always, NJ’s nurses and healthcare workers stand ready to meet the needs of COVID positive patients, knowing the potential risk and exposure they face. None hesitated to provide the care needed, but initially protections and protocols for the front-line workers were not adequate to reduce the risk of exposure to contracting the virus.

For those workers who have been exposed in their workplaces and have contracted Covid-19, we know that many have experienced serious, life-long illnesses and some have died due to complications of the virus. Instead of gaining coverage and protection from our workers’ compensation system, healthcare workers often must fight long costly legal battles to prove the link between their exposure and illnesses.

Nurses and healthcare workers need to be confident that our hospitals, the NJ Department of Health, our public health infrastructure and the CDC are coordinating efforts to make sure that the risks to patients and caregivers are minimized, and that as we protect our patients, we ourselves are protected.

Today, I urge you to vote yes on A.4129 and move this long-awaited bill forward out of Committee. Second, I ask that you call Assembly Speaker Coughlin to urge him to post the bill on the Assembly floor this Thursday, December 17. If that does not happen, this bill will not be voted on until the middle of January on the Assembly floor. Since this bill is being amended the Senate will not be able to vote on the bill until January 28, 2021.

Additionally, HPAE will continue to call on Governor Murphy to sign an Executive Order to ensure data of healthcare workers in both long term care and acute care hospitals is posted on the daily dashboard immediately. Healthcare workers have been exposed and at-risk throughout the pandemic and they need immediate action on this matter.

Thank you for your consideration and support.