Health care unions statement on COVID-19 outbreak at St. Michael Hospital

The leaders of the Washington State Nurses Associ­a­tion and SEIU Health­care 1199NW today called on state officials to address the serious short­com­ings in oversight and trans­parency that we believe contributed to the severe outbreak of COVID-19 among staff and patients at St. Michael Hospital in Bremerton.

UFCW21, the union repre­senting health care workers at St. Michael’s, held a press confer­ence last week highlighting short­ages of PPE, short staffing, lack of notifi­ca­tion and other safety issues that they believe contributed to the outbreak.

SEIU 1199 and WSNA support UFCW21 in their efforts to address the serious worker safety issues at St. Michael’s and issued the following state­ment addressing issues that could lead to a similar outbreak in the hospi­tals where we repre­sent nurses and other health care workers:

As unions repre­senting nurses and other health care workers in Washington state, we are appalled at the condi­tions at St. Michael Hospital in Bremerton and stand with UFCW21 in demanding better oversight and trans­parency. While this COVID-19 outbreak happened at St. Michael’s, we are deeply concerned that such an outbreak could happen elsewhere in the state.

We are partic­u­larly concerned that individual hospi­tals are self-reporting avail­able levels of Personal Protec­tive Equip­ment to the state Depart­ment of Health. Since June 12, St. Michael’s has reported having more than two weeks’ supply of all personal protec­tive equip­ment except Powered Air Purifying Respi­ra­tors (PAPRs), but UFCW21 members report that they have not been getting the PPE they need to stay safe at the hospital. SEIU 1199 and WSNA have heard similar reports from members in some instances. We call on the state to inves­ti­gate all such reports promptly, for the safety of our members and the patients they care for.

As repre­sen­ta­tives of nurses and health­care workers in hospi­tals across the state, our members have also reported delayed notifi­ca­tion of exposure and the lack of rapid COVID-19 testing for health care staff who may have come into contact with a COVID-19 patient. This means our members are forced to wait at home, often on their own time, for test results to come back. This not only depletes avail­able paid-time off for our members – time they may need if they do acquire COVID-19 – but also means nurses and other health care workers are not avail­able to work at a time when they are greatly needed.

With the flu season approaching and the poten­tial for a surge of COVID-19 cases, we must solve these PPE, reporting, oversight, notifi­ca­tion and testing issues now.”

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