Union Health Local Leaders Testify on Coronavirus, Health Care Funding

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By MIKE LEE

While the Coronavirus crisis continues to build, DC 37 leaders testified before a special joint hearing of the New York City Council’s Hospitals and Health Committees at City Hall, on March 5.

The hearing, which lasted well into the early evening, focused on the city’s response to the impact of the virus, which, as of this writing, has eleven people diagnosed with the illness, with dozens more exposed now in self-quarantine.

Speaking at the hearing was United Federation of Nurses & Epidemiologists Local 436 President Judith Arroyo, Jeff Oshins, president of NYC Health Department Technical Professional Employees Local 3005, and Vice President Michael Greco, from Local 2507 FDNY Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics.

In her testimony, Arroyo discussed the action her members taken during the crisis, working overtime, and in some cases double shifts, to provide information and care to the public.

“The public health epidemiologists are the medical detectives, and many are working overtime,” Arroyo said. “Our nurses have responded by going to providers, answering questions from public health professionals since the beginning of February.”

Arroyo told the Council that 800 Local 436 nurses work in the public school system, addressing the issues involved in dealing with the Coronavirus threat.

“They have received the information they need to do what they have to for the school system. However, I am concerned about the nursing shortage in the school system,” Arroyo said, adding that some schools use contractors, who do not have access to students’ health records.

On March 15, NYC Mayor de Blasio announced the closure of NYC Schools until April 20. cafeteria workers, who are Local 372 members, reported for work on March 16. All other school based employees–including School Crossing Guards–were told to report to work on March 17.

Local 3005 President Jeff Oshins followed. “It is my members who work at the city’s public health labs, that are conducting the tests,” said Oshins, whose local represents the city’s Health Dept. technical and professional employees.

“I am astonished that only having 1,000 tests that can be done,” Oshins said. “Not per day—but in total. I don’t understand how in other countries where they can have 10,000 tests per day, while we are so limited.”

“As we expect the number of Coronavirus cases to increase and to have people tested, we need to know that we have our members working,” Oshins said, explaining the need for more workers and more testing kits. By March 14, it was reported 23,000 test kits arrived at the DOHMH laboratory. Over the weekend two companies, Roche and Thermo Fisher were granted emergency approval by the federal government to manufacture test kits.

Michael Greco, vice president of the Local 2507, which represents Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics, spoke of the issues involved in the increased workload on first responders. “We’re doing 1.5 million calls a year. So if you were to have another half million calls in a pandemic, you would overwhelm the system,” Greco said.

As of this writing, one EMS worker tested positive for the virus. The first responder is in quarantine, along with five co-workers. Patients the EMS worker had contact with have been notified.

On Monday, March 9, Ralph Palladino, 2nd Vice President of Local 1549, who includes workers in the city hospitals and clinics, spoke out at a Hospitals Committee hearing at City Hall.

The Coronavirus spread and influenza epidemic are reminders that a strong public health system is needed in this city. The human cost in lives and economic ripples the virus attack is causing proves this,” Palladino said. “It makes no sense to be proposing cutting public health programs.”

On March 11, it was reported that a health care worker at Jacobi Medical Center tested positive for Coronavirus, and is in self-quarantine.

Photos by Mike Lee

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