▶️ ‘I’m afraid’ – Oregon healthcare workers unite in urgent call for more PPE

By MATT McDONALD
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY

The personal struggle of frontline workers dealing with a critical shortage of personal protective equipment bubbled over Monday morning during a video conference call with Gov. Kate Brown.

“I had to drop my daughter off Monday and I have not been able to pick her back up to make sure they stay safe because I’m afraid,” said a tearful Irene Hunt, a home health care worker in Springfield.

Afraid, because she lacks basic supplies to protect herself while treating patients.

“We can’t even go to the store to buy a mask and gloves with our own money because the shelves are empty,” she said in a Zoom video call organized by the union representing many of the state’s healthcare employees. Along with the governor, the workers were joined by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici,representatives of SEIU Local 503, SEIU Local 49, AFSCME, UFCW 555, the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), and leaders from Avamere and OHSU.

On Monday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 606 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Sixteen people have died.

Irene and other frontline workers in Oregon pleaded with the governor for help from the federal government, calling for the immediate distribution of the masks and equipment held in the Strategic National Stockpile; identifying reserves of masks/equipment in other industries, such as construction, and redistributing them to frontline workers; using all powers of the federal government to speed immediate production of new equipment and ensure it is routed to states for distribution to all frontline workers and ensuring that all frontline workers across all settings and emergency response workers can be tested easily to slow the spread of the virus.

“I’m 35-years -old and for the first time in my life, I’ve considered whether or not I need to write a will,” said Casey Parr a respiratory therapist at OHSU. “I’m already anticipating that I will likely be infected because I lack basic protective equipment.”

Twelve staffers at Oregon Health and Science University have tested positive for COVID-19, said Danny Jacobs, the president of OHSU — one of the state’s leading hospitals, on Monday. How many more in other facilities in the state might also be infected is unclear.

Alicia Holihan, an ER technician at Springfield’s PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, said her team is currently being asked to work 12-hour shifts and asked to only use one surgical mask per shift. It’s all taking a toll.

“Every time I leave home, I have to say goodbye to my family not knowing when I’ll see them again.,” Holihan said. “We don’t know what each day holds for us, we might at any point be mandated to stay at that hospital.”

Brown on Sunday thanked Oregonians for their PPE donations, but said the supply was still falling short of what was needed. She talked about health care workers wearing masks for multiple days and on Monday those workers drove home the point. 

“In Central Oregon right now some of our nurses have been wearing the same N95 masks for three weeks straight,” said Sarah Laslett, the Executive Director of the Oregon Nurses Association.

Brown called the lack of personal protective equipment or PPE her number one concern. She’s asked all non-emergency procedures be put on hold and all other business with equipment to donate it. The Governor is also pleading for help.

“We need the federal government to step up…I am not exaggerating when I say this outrageous lack of action will result in the loss of lives, including our healthcare workers and homecare workers,” Brown said.

For those on the frontline of the pandemic, the help can’t come soon enough.

“This is my daughter and I’m choosing to continue to try and take care of my clients and to keep my job,” said Hunt, holding up a picture of her daughter, who she hasn’t been able to see in person for a week. “And I just really need this to be over and I need PPE’s so I can protect my family, thank you.”

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