As a therapy technician, Amy Jones doesn’t work directly with COVID-19 patients, but last month she was exposed to the coronavirus while helping another patient get out of bed.
Soon after, Jones’ supervisor at St. Louis University Hospital told her that the patient tested positive for the virus, and that Jones would have to self-quarantine for two weeks. Jones, who is African American, immediately thought of her husband, who has diabetes, and about reports that black people are dying at higher rates from the coronavirus.
“Mentally, I was losing my mind, but I have to keep it together because of my kids and my grandkids — and my husband,” she said.
Non-nursing hospital workers may have less direct contact with known COVID-19 patients, but Jones’ union, SEIU Healthcare Missouri, is still advocating for better protections. Last month, it reached an agreement with St. Louis University Hospital on sick time, which allowed Jones to receive furlough pay while in self-quarantine.
The union, which represents more than 500 non-nursing workers at the hospital and others across the state, is still pushing for hazard pay. That would give workers like Jones time and a half.
Jones is now back at work. She never experienced symptoms of COVID-19 but worries about being exposed to the virus again.
That’s a concern many workers share.
Caprice Nevils, who’s worked at St. Louis University Hospital for 15 years as a care partner and is currently interning with SEIU Healthcare Missouri, said she’s been feeling anxious lately.
She loves her job, but she’s also worried about spreading the coronavirus to her partner, who is autoimmune-compromised.
“Hazard pay needs to go arm in arm with PPE — protection on both sides,” she said. “We’re putting our lives on the line out there, and these big corporations are making millions. Protect the people.”
In a statement, SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital did not address hazard pay but said employees have all the safety equipment they need to do their jobs.
“Like other health systems across the country, we are working to conserve supplies, as well as finding new supply sources for certain items. This is necessary to ensure we continue to have what we need in the days and weeks ahead,” according to the statement.
Hospitals in the St. Louis region are bracing for a surge of COVID-19 patients, expected to peak in the next week or two.
More essential than ever
William Shead’s commute to work on public transportation has tripled since the coronavirus outbreak started. He’s a floor tech in the maternity ward of Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis County.
He said his job sanitizing surfaces feels more essential than ever, especially since he’s playing a role in protecting expectant mothers.
“If I don’t come to work, then how can they feel safe? That’s just a part of life. If I got to take the risk, I will take it,” he said.
Shead doesn’t work around people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, but he takes extra precautions, like wearing a mask and a double set of gloves.
He’s also isolating himself from his family, speaking only on the phone every day. “I haven’t seen my grandbabies in about a month, but I want them to stay safe,” he said.
Shead is a member of SEIU Local 1, which also represents about 115 EVS janitors at St. Louis University Hospital. Spokesman Nick Desideri said those who sanitize COVID-19 patient rooms wear full gowns, booties and masks. He said they currently have all the proper protective equipment they need.
Desideri said he’s encouraged to see how much gratitude people have for essential workers, but he hopes that doesn’t evaporate when everyone starts going back to their normal lives.
“This work that has been deemed essential has been essential this entire time,” he said. “It’s time we start treating the workers who do it — janitors, factory workers, state employees, health care workers — with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”
Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan
Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com