Caregivers Are Also Healing Our NationFebruary 24, 2021
1199ers will help build back better.
During an unprecedented national crisis, 1199ers moved to the vanguard to defeat perhaps the worst president in our nation’s history. Now we are moving to the front lines to help our nation heal and move forward from a confluence of health, economic, social and democratic crises.
The road ahead is steep and long, they say. Too many members have witnessed the funerals of patients, colleagues, friends and relatives.
Although healthcare workers as a whole have retained their jobs during the crises, loved ones and neighbors have lost jobs, savings and even homes.
Even before the pandemic, our nation’s healthcare system was sorely in need of reform. The Affordable Care Act––not comprehensive when it was passed––was further weakened by the last administration and its Congressional cronies. Prior to the pandemic, 87 million people in the nation were uninsured or underinsured. Since then, another 12 million have lost employer-based insurance. Medical debt remains the nation’s leading cause of bankruptcy.
“Instead of dropping the ball, we can work as a team.”
– Susan Philip, Orthopedic Physician Assistant at Staten Island’s Richmond University Medical Center and Staten Island University Hospital
Healthcare workers face another crisis. “When the pandemic began, it became clear to me that working in a nursing home is the most dangerous job in America,” says Crystal Perry, an LPN at Glendale NH in Schenectady, NY. Recent reputable studies have found that while five percent of the nation’s COVID-19 cases occurred in long-term care facilities, deaths among residents and workers in those facilities accounted for more than 36 percent of the nation’s total. In twelve states, including Massachusetts, long-term care facilities accounted for more than half the COVID deaths.
Hospitals have also been battered.
“I have never seen anything like this,” says Susan Philip, a per-diem orthopedic physician assistant at Staten Island’s Richmond University Medical Center and Staten Island University Hospital. Philip stresses that because COVID-19 tossed everyone into uncharted waters, coordination and cooperation has always been paramount.
That was sorely missing from an administration characterized by denial, cronyism and incompetence.
Instead of support from the nation’s capital, healthcare workers were accused of inflating the number of COVID patients and deaths in an attempt to increase funding. The lack of support from the former administration had a disproportionate effect on poorer communities, particularly those of color.
The pandemic has laid bare the failure of a profit-driven healthcare system and the systemic racism within it. “My work is at Broookdale in an underserved community, so I can’t compare my experience there to more affluent neighborhoods,” says Scheena Tannis, an RN for the past 15 years there. “I do know that the patients have been negatively impacted by lack of access and the overwhelming demand.”
Crystal Perry, an LPN at Glendale NH in Schenectady, NY, says that the pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of working families.
Tannis stresses that the traditionally underserved should be prioritized. She is critical of the previous administration that failed to distinguish opinion from fact and that disparaged science. “You don’t call a plumber to fix your electricity,” she says.
“We are the essential workers, the hands-on workers who don’t have the luxury of sitting behind our home computers,” Perry says. She has the additional responsibility of trying to shield her grown children from infection. “I live with four children and my fiancé, so we have to be extra careful,” she says.
Perry’s son, a restaurant chef, and one of her daughters, a grocery-store worker, were recently laid off. “None of my children have the benefits that I do because they aren’t union members,” she says sadly.
She noted that the first weeks of the vaccine rollout were plagued with disorder, delays and disinformation. New York was not an exception. Each state was left to fend for itself with little or no assistance from federal officials. The Biden-Harris team was not even granted the courtesy of a briefing on the work of the previous administration.
January 20 restored hope. The Biden-Harris administration has forthrightly acknowledged the systemic racism built into our institutions.
It has noted that during the vaccine rollout, the map of communities in which residents were fortunate enough to get vaccinations did not correspond to a map of the hardest-hit communities. The administration has promised to address that with the help of allies like 1199.
“Having a Union like 1199 helps with outreach and education and to get everyone on the same page,” says Physician Assistant Philip. “Instead of dropping the ball, we can work as a team.” RN Tannis also believes that 1199 can use its influence and prestige to get local and national leaders to work together. That has always been the Union’s posture. A major objective in 1199’s constitution is “to help achieve high quality health care and human services for all people regardless of their economic status.”
The 1199 members interviewed all spoke of the pandemic’s emotional trauma and the healing that needs to take place. “Caring for each other is essential,” says Philip. “As healthcare workers, we must be concerned about all aspects of our patients’ wellbeing.”
“Concern, compassion and empathy is why I’m a nurse,” says Perry. “I put myself and my family on the line every day. And I know I have the support of my Union. 1199 can help lead us out of this disaster. But we must also use our power to hold our elected officials accountable.”
At press time, Philip, Tannis and Perry had each been vaccinated to protect themselves and their families and to encourage others to do the same. They want to set an example. Said Tannis of her vaccination, “I took one for the team.”