School nurse funding #
Increase funding for nursing hours to safely reopen schools. Nearly half of Washington schools have a nurse onsite less than one day a week. School nurses are being called on to lead COVID-19 infection prevention and mitigation protocols, provide daily symptom checks and collaborate with their local public health departments – in addition to their regular duties. Some wealthier districts have hired COVID-19 response teams with roles defined by OSPI, led by the school nurse; funding should be provided to increase school nursing hours and to allow districts to have equitable access to quality COVID-19 response teams. Schools must be provided appropriate and safe levels of PPE for all staff and students.
Public health funding #
For 20 years, we have asked the legislature to find a dedicated and sustainable public health funding stream. The time is now. Our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we need to rebuild our national, state and local public health systems.
Nurse education funding #
Preserve the state’s investment in nursing faculty in community and technical college schools of nursing. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need to graduate more highly skilled nurses, and this funding is critical to recruiting and retaining nurse educators.
Health system transparency #
As state and federal governments pour money into hospitals and health care facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is little ability to track how this funding is being distributed and dispersed. Hospitals have blamed pandemic-related actions for revenue loss which has resulted in employee layoffs and furloughs, but hospitals have failed to provide data to support that assertion. Even before the pandemic, it was hard to track the adequacy and efficacy of health system charity care and community benefit. Hospitals have not provided data to show whether these programs are working as intended to address community health needs and to reduce health disparities felt most acutely by communities of color. The pandemic has also highlighted the need for clear, transparent reporting of health care facility PPE levels and testing capacity to ensure worker and patient safety across the state.
Worker protections and workplace safety #
It is imperative that the legislature support the Worker Protection Act and improve workplace safety, particularly for those on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. The pandemic has identified policies that can be improved to ensure worker safety, such as employer-provided PPE, testing, paid sick leave, workers compensation coverage and protection against retaliation. Additionally, the Worker Protection Act provides a way for workers to effectively raise safety complaints and to have them addressed in a timely, just manner by giving workers and their advocates the ability to enforce labor and anti-discrimination laws on behalf of the state when the state is unable to do so itself. This is especially critical for enforcement of existing labor and workplace protections.
Racial equity and justice #
Racism is as much a public health emergency as the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time for the legislature to deliberately work to undo systems founded on oppression and to replace them with budget and policy decisions that lift up communities of color. Within the health care space, we must remove systemic barriers to accessing health care. We must also work within our professional capacity to recognize and address bias and to ensure all patients are being listened to and heard. The current pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on the health of communities of color. These communities are contracting COVID-19 and dying at higher rates than their white counterparts. Communities of color are also experiencing a larger economic impact, including greater rates of job and health insurance loss. The public health crises of coronavirus and racism are inseparable. As the legislature moves to address the COVID-19 pandemic, it should work with equal determination to address systemic racism in all areas of state policy.