Florida’s Largest Healthcare Union 1199SEIU Calls on State Officials To Ensure Better Protections For Nursing Home Residents, Patients From COVID-19

April 29, 2020


Contact: Ed Gilhuly | 305.807.6906 | egilhuly@leftcom.com

Florida’s largest healthcare union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, has called on the state government to better protect nursing home residents and caregivers as the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak surges across the state. Patients and workers at long-term care facilities face special risks against the highly contagious virus.

While the Florida Department of Health recently released a list of facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases, union members and leaders say more accurate and thorough information, comprehensive testing, increased personal protective equipment (PPE), enhanced workers benefits and more are immediately needed to properly serve seniors, caregivers and our communities.

These points were outlined in more detail in an open letter from Margarette Nerette, vice president of 1199SEIU, to Secretary Mary Mayhew of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

The full text of the letter follows:

April 25, 2020

Mary C. Mayhew, Secretary
Florida Agency for Health Care Administration
2727 Mahan Drive
Tallahassee, FL 32308

Dear Secretary Mayhew:

The state report listing more than 335 long-term care facilities with positive COVID-19 cases is a good first step in getting an account of the impact this devastating disease is having among our seniors and other vulnerable residents living in these facilities. However, the state list appears to be incomplete because we know of a handful of facilities that have positive cases that are not on your list. These discrepancies can be found in our list which is attached to this letter.

It is important that we have accurate and timely information so facility administrators, families and caregivers know how to respond. Just two weeks ago, we were told there were only 143 patients in long-term care facilities in Florida that had tested positive. As of today, that number has more than doubled. We also believe there are more out there that have not yet been added to the list.

Standing on the frontlines of this pandemic are the dedicated healthcare workers who put themselves at risk to care for this growing number of positive COVID-19 residents in our long-term care facilities. As a labor union representing these healthcare heroes, we remain deeply concerned that they are not getting the appropriate personal protective equipment or PPE they need to protect themselves and residents. Caregivers have reported having to reuse masks and gowns repeatedly in the same week and in many cases, for multiple weeks. At some facilities, workers only have cloth masks and no sanitizer. As one worker put it, this is analogous to being told to “jump out of an airplane with no parachute.” Our expectation is that daily every staff person will be provided with a fresh surgical mask, and that staff assigned to COVID-positive residents or Patients Under Investigation will be provided with an N95 respirator, gown, gloves and face shield.

Another urgent need is testing. According to news reports, the Florida National Guard has just begun testing in long-term care facilities. We want assurances that every employee will be afforded the opportunity to be tested. It is also critically important that workers who test positive do not have the added burden of having to use vacation or sick time while they quarantine. The vast majority of these caregivers make just $11 per hour. They cannot afford to miss one paycheck and they should not have to use what little time off they are allotted to quarantine. The lack of adequate paid sick time as well as access to affordable healthcare are among the many disparities this pandemic has revealed that must be addressed by state and federal officials.

With 691 licensed nursing homes in Florida that house 71,000 residents, it is clear our state is at a heightened risk so we must take all proper precautions to avoid further tragedy. The state must make it a priority to protect both long-term care residents and the workers who care for them. We are calling on AHCA to make sure the following list of facilities have all of the PPE supplies needed to protect workers and residents. We are also calling on AHCA to expedite testing in all of these facilities so we can track and stop the spread of COVID-19. The well-being of patients and staff depend on swift action.

Margarette Nerette
Vice President
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

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.