ST. LOUIS — As COVID-19 cases continue to reach unsettling numbers, front line health care workers are demanding more protections ahead of the holiday weekend.
“We continue to call these health care workers heroes but we don’t treat them like heroes and we are continually putting these heroes at risk,” said Rev. Darryl Gray.
“A few of our sisters and brothers have died from this. Some union workers have died. Even the non-union workers have died,” said Shunda Whitefield, a healthcare worker at Estates of Spanish Lake Nursing Home.
In a virtual press conference Tuesday, front line workers moved their protest from the streets to Zoom, where the staff represented by service employees international union and faith leaders demanded hazard pay, adequate personal protective equipment like masks and safety stewards.
“It’s better than it was in March, but the way it was in March was an absolute disgrace. So it’s something that we need to continue to emphasize,” said Union Representative Laura Barrett.
Amy Jones, a nursing assistant at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital spoke during the conference. She detailed her experience being sent to work with COVID-19 patients with no protection.
“So when I brought it up, well I need an N-95 mask, they said, well, you really don’t have to wear it anymore. I’m like, so where did that come from?” said Barrett.
They said it’s a common problem that impacts black and brown employees more, who often work in housekeeping, transportation and the food industry.
“There are things that can keep workers and patients safe. There are things to demand from the hospital to make workers in our community safe,” said Jones.
We reached out to SLU for a comment. They sent us this statement.
“The SEIU Healthcare has not shared information about this press conference with SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, nor have they mentioned the concept of “safety stewards. At SLU Hospital, we have teams already in place that are focused on patient, employee, and visitor safety and we have an adequate supply of appropriate PPE.”
The group also asked that Governor Parson issue a statewide mask mandate to help stop the spread of the virus.
Parson’s office sent this statement.
“Governor Mike Parson has led with a balanced approach since day one of this pandemic and will continue to do so. He and his administration monitor data and work closely with the Missouri Hospital Association and our panel of infectious disease doctors to monitor the statewide health care system and capacity. Our entire administration is here to support our health care workers and health care delivery system. Missouri’s COVID-19 numbers are up and continue to increase. It is imperative that Missourians take personal responsibility and social distance, wear a mask, practice personal hygiene, and limit their gatherings.
Governor Parson has been very clear and consistent about his support for local control. Every individual MUST take action to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”