Florida Healthcare Workers With 1199SEIU Union Reject Weakened COVID-19 Protections At HCA Hospitals

April 17, 2020

Ed Gilhuly | egilhuly@leftcom.com | 305.807.6906

MIAMI---Nurses with Florida’s largest healthcare union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, have rejected new COVID-19 protocols from Hospital Corporation of America that weaken protections for caregivers against the highly contagious virus in HCA facilities around the state.

HCA is one of the biggest healthcare companies in the nation and operates dozens of hospitals in Florida.

The loosened protocols state that as of April 13 only staff performing the most severe “aerosol-generating procedures, such as intubation, nebulization, bronchoscopy or suctioning” of COVID-positive and COVID-possible patients will be provided a protective N-95 respirator, while caregivers providing all other procedures on these patients may only utilize a less-protective mask and equipment.

The previous set of HCA protocols, dated April 3, provided for the superior N-95 protection for all workers while they provided a wider range of care to patients confirmed with the COVID-19 coronavirus or those who were possible carriers.

“These reduced standards are a giant step backward when we’re learning of increased dangers about COVID-19 every day,” said RN and 1199SEIU member Pat Diaz. “Under these new protocols, we will have much more risk to contract the virus ourselves because we’ll be wearing inferior protection while providing care to patients who are sick and/or highly contagious with a deadly condition.” In response to the weakened safety standards, 1199SEIU has sent a cease and desist letter to HCA demanding the hospital chain reverse the “significant and medically questionable change” in procedures.

The reduced use of N-95 masks was announced despite a separate company newsletter dated April 16 reporting HCA had a 29-day supply of protective respirators currently in inventory and called itself the “safest place to practice and receive care in South Florida.”

Some nurses said they are prepared to refuse assignments if they are put in harm’s way unnecessarily, as their health and continuing ability to work is crucial to protecting overall public health during a pandemic. Nurses report they have been threatened with disciplinary action if they take such a stand, but say they have no choice for the well-being of their patients, themselves, their own families and communities.

In addition to the response to HCA, the union has demanded immediate action from the federal government to protect workers in hospitals, nursing homes and all healthcare facilities before COVID-19 hits its surge. In Florida, medical researchers currently project the peak of COVID-19 to hit on May 6.

These demands include enhanced universal masking; improved testing and treatment for frontline workers; rapid expansion the production of essential equipment, including a requirement for factories to produce PPE under the Defense Production Act; distribution according to need; and price controls to stop profiteering.

1199SEIU also points out that healthcare institutions such as HCA have received a substantial portion of the $2 trillion governmental stimulus and 6.2% payroll tax relief, which must largely benefit workers serving on the front lines of the crisis. This support includes paid sick time for employees who are quarantined; hazard pay; keeping staff on payroll so skilled workers are available as the pandemic reaches its May 6 peak; and more.

“We are at a critical point of this growing crisis,” said Dale Ewart, Executive Vice President and Florida Regional Director of 1199SEIU. “We can’t have healthcare companies like HCA stepping backward, or the government standing still, while people are dying.” ###

1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest healthcare union in the country representing more than 450,000 nurses and healthcare workers nationwide, including more than 24,000 in Florida. Our nurses, certified nursing assistants and other healthcare workers care for Florida families in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities throughout the state.