Health care workers are among those on the front lines of the coronavius outbreak. As more of them start to become sick, they're starting to speak out about the risks they're facing and asking for changes to working conditions in hospitals.
At UF Health in Jacksonville, the union representing some 2,400 employees at the hospital, including nurses, food service employees and others, has raised the alarm to their management about shortages of personal protection equipment, including safety masks.
"There's a shortage of masks that exists at the hospital. They haven't gotten us a supply restocking yet," said Michael Sampson, Union Representative with AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Sampson also told First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross that sick leave policies are a point of contention on the hospital campus.
"There's concerns about taking sick leave," he said. "If a nurse feels sick, there are OSHA recommendations that encourage them to either stay home. But oftentimes, a lot of our employees, they're kind of stuck in a situation in which if they stay home, they're penalized. They still have to provide for the families. So they're kind of stuck in between that, that gray area of, 'Do I go to work to make money for my family even though I may be contracting something, or do I stay home and not have enough money for my family?'" Sampson said the concern has been building for weeks.
"I've talked to young nurses this week, who would tell me that weeks ago, they started feeling as though they were taking care of patients who had symptoms, high fever, etc. But those patients weren't getting the test done because of the shortage of tests."
A spokesman for UF Health Jacksonville told WJCT the hospital is not currently treating any COVID-19 patients, but if a nurse is told to go home after treating a positive COVID patient, they would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days but will be paid during that time.
"The health and well-being of our patients, visitors and staff at UF Health Jacksonville is paramount at this unique time," spokesman Dan Leveton told WJCT in a statement.
"Part of our challenge, like others in the industry, is ensuring we have adequate personal protection equipment for those who need it the most – that includes patients and the caregivers who treat them. We currently have those supplies, but like many other hospitals, [we] are being extremely vigilant to make sure we have enough moving forward."
Health care workers across the country are dealing with shortages as the diagnoses of COVID-19 spike. Meanwhile, Florida's Division of Emergency Management is asking the federal government for help in supplying vital safety equipment.
The request includes 2 million N95 face masks, 500,000 pairs of gloves and gowns, 250,000 coveralls and 150,000 personal protective kits, along with ventilators, hospital beds, hand sanitizer and mobile intensive care units.
Melissa Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6382 or on Twitter at @MelissainJax.