Nursing Home Union Employees Protest Lack Of PPE

Members of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) stood on Carnegie Ave. near 69th street to protest lack of PPE [ Marlene Harris-Taylor / ideastream]
Members of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) stood on Carnegie Ave. near 69th street to protest a lack of PPE. [Marlene Harris-Taylor / ideastream]

A union that represents health care workers at various nursing homes and hospitals in Cleveland held an event on Thursday to protest what they call a lack of personal protective equipment or PPE.

About a dozen members of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) stood on Carnegie Ave. near 69th street, waving signs that read “This is not a drill. Our need 4 PPE is real” and “Workers below $15.00 an hour are saving lives.”  

Samara Knight, Cleveland SEIU outreach director, wore a homemade mask, as did several of the other protesters. 

“These owners that own these nursing homes, these hospital administrators, are not making it accessible for members to have PPE on hand. To tell somebody who saves lives to use the same masks for three weeks is unacceptable,” said Knight.

Knight said several nursing home workers have been asked to take off their surgical masks at the end of their work shift and place them in a paper bag, and then retrieve the same mask out of the paper bag when they return for their next shift.

Asking staff to extend the life of surgical masks by wearing them more than once is part of the Centers for Disease Protection and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, said Teresa Lane, executive director of Cityview nursing home center.

“This is not just what our nursing home is doing. This is nursing homes across the nation, just to try to reserve our stockpile. We do have the staff members wearing one mask per day,” Lane said.

If a mask is soiled or torn it is replaced, she said.

The SEIU held its protest just a few blocks from the Cityview facility and Knight said several members of the union work there and at Candlewood Healthcare and Rehabilitation. The two facilities are owned by the same company, Lane said.

Although there is a national shortage of PPE, Cityview has not depleted its supply of surgical masks, Lane said. The nursing home has some 4,000 surgical masks on hand and a supply of the N95 masks, gowns and goggles.

“In the event that we do have a [COVID-19] case we have those items available. But because this is a nationwide pandemic and everyone’s fighting for PPE, we are trying to reserve ours in the event we have a case in the building,” Lane said.

The facility has not had any confirmed cases, she said.

According to the CDC website, health care facilities are allowed to consider allowing staff to extend use of N95 respirators, facemasks, and eye protection, beyond a single patient contact to optimize the supply of PPE during this pandemic.

The local SEIU chapter represents about 13,000 people in a variety of jobs, Knight said. Many of the members work in nursing homes and local hospitals, she said. There is a huge concern that these workers are being asked to risk their health because PPE is being rationed at facilities, she said.

“Our members have to go to work every day protecting lives, but nobody is protecting their lives,” she said

This protest in Cleveland was part a national effort by the union to bring attention to this issue. Protests were held in several other cities across the country, she said.

The union is asking the federal government to lead a coordinated effort to get more PPE to health care workers.

Government and health care officials have said there is a nationwide shortage of PPE and there are efforts to get more.

During his daily briefing on Thursday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine addressed efforts to obtain more protective equipment for health care workers in the state.

Gov. DeWine announced that 19 manufacturers have partnered with three hospital groups to begin large scale production of face shields. Over the next five weeks, 750,000 to 1 million face shields will be added to the Ohio Department of Health stockpile, he said.

In addition to Cityview and Candlewood Healthcare and Rehabilitation, ideastream also reached out to University Manor Health Care Center. University Manor did not respond to requests for comments on this issue before the publication of this story.

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